White patches: Heatwave causes unlivable water temperatures for salmon, claims NGO

Written By: Moohita Kaur Garg WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Published: Jul 28, 2021, 04:18 PM(IST)

Dying Sockeye Salmon (Image: columbiariverkeeper.org) Photograph:( Others )

Story highlights

NGO used a video to shed light on the problems faced by salmon, shows injuries brought on by stress from the recent heatwave

In a disturbing video posted by the nature conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper, sockeye salmon fishes can be seen with fuzzy-looking white patches on their body.

According to the group, the white spots are the result of fungal infection caused by stress-reaction to the recent heatwave.

Sadly, the fish in question, Snake River sockeye Salmon have been listed on the Endangered Species list and dangerously close to extinction. In 1991, they were listed for Federal protection.

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The reason behind this intense heating up of water has been attributed to the heatwave that Canada and the US have been grappling with in recent days.

However, the NGO says that besides the heatwave, the dams on the rivers Columbia and Snake are also to blame. They contend that Dams on the Columbia and Lower Snake rivers create large, stagnant reservoirs that capture the sun's energy and make the water too hot for salmon. 

Columbia river basin

Map of the Columbia River Basin. Purple oval shows the mouth of the Little White Salmon River. Red stars show major sockeye spawning areas. Black dashes show large hydroelectric dams.  (Image: columbiariverkeeper.org) 

Don Sampson of Northwest Tribal Salmon Alliance calls it a "salmon crisis".

In another video posted by the conservation group while calling for Congress to take action, Sampson says that "the sockeye here are dying. They are suffocating. You can see they are in lethally hot water."

At 71 degrees Fahrenheit, current water temperatures in the Columbia River are much higher than the legal limit of 68 degrees F. Scientists set this limit to protect salmon from unsafe temperatures.

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An earlier study found that eight major dams in the Columbia Basin fundamentally alter salmon temperature and flow. 

The Columbia River is an important migratory route for salmon, which travel up the river to spawn in mountain lakes in the Okanogan, Yakima, and Snake River systems before returning downstream. 

As noted by the National Wildlife Federation, 13 species of salmon and steelhead have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since the final construction of the Lower Snake River dams in the 1970s.

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According to a press release by Columbia riverkeepers, earlier in 2015, approximately 250,000 fish died in the Columbia and Snake rivers, due to hot water. Many of those fish sought refuge in the Little White Salmon River and nearby tributaries. 

Researchers predict this type of fish kill will become more common if dams and climate change continue to warm the rivers. Sockeye will likely go extinct if the issue isn't addressed on time.

A number of fishing groups, tribal nations, and conservation organizations are calling on the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation to protect sockeye salmon by breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

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