SOURCE: Popular Science

DATE: February 8, 2019

SNIP: The Tulalip Indian Reservation sits on the east side of the Puget Sound, about 40 miles north of Seattle, Washington, where the change in seasons is marked by the arrival and departure of salmon. At the heart of the reservation is Tulalip Bay, where salmon return every spring and fall before swimming upstream to spawn.

But it has become increasingly difficult for the Tulalip people to care for the salmon. Since the 1980s, wild Pacific salmon have faced a sharp decline due to overfishing, habitat loss and pollution, leaving several local populations threatened or endangered. Now, climate change is further imperiling the fish.

Recent summers in the Pacific Northwest have been beset by record heat, and higher water temperatures are killing the adult salmon before they can reproduce. Pacific Salmon are anadromous, meaning they spend their juvenile years in freshwater streams and rivers, before moving on to estuaries, and then, in their adult years, the open ocean. Adults return to the streams where they were born at the end of their lives to spawn. Extreme heat has made this journey particularly treacherous.

The Washington Department of Fish and Game does not track the number of fish who make it to spawning grounds but die before they can reproduce. However, hatchery workers say they seen have more and more adult fish perish in stream beds before they can spawn. It’s not just heat that is threatening fish. Dwindling winter snowpack has deprived the rivers and streams where salmon spawn of a key source of water.

With lower water [levels] and higher water temperatures, it makes it a lot harder for them to find the safe places to survive until they’re ready to spawn,” said Ashley Caldwell, a fisheries biologist for the Tulalip Tribes, who explained that increased rain in cooler months is making life difficult for the salmon as well.

“Climate change has created much higher rains in the fall and winter months…that wipe out their spawning grounds,” she said. “It’s not ideal. It’s not the constant rain that we’re used to here in Washington. It’s these monsoon-type rains that we’re getting. Everything’s getting thrown out of whack.”