Let me set this up correctly for you, I warn you there are going to be a lot of numbers thrown at you at once.
Historical abundance of Columbia/Snake river salmon/steelhead is generally accepted to have been between 10 and 16 million fish annually, but there are other estimates that place it at 8-35 million fish annually. I will use the more accepted 10-16 million fish annually. A 1995 study paid for by the Bonneville Power Administration that was authored by Jim Lichatowich (he wrote Salmon Without Rivers, good book, go get a copy of it) placed historical abundance of Chinook salmon in the Columbia/Snake at 4.7 million to 9.2 million fish annually.
So, I ran a special search of all the salmon and steelhead going through Bonneville and Willamette Falls dams from Jan. 1, 2002 through Dec. 31, 2011 at the fish passage center and when I add up all those numbers the total amount through those two dams, Bonneville the lowest on the Columbia and Willamette being a river that dumps into the Columbia below Bonneville so I had to add them as well and I got 15,966,455 as the total number of salmon and steelhead that passed over those dams over that complete 10 year span. That is less than the 16 million we used to get back on an annual basis.
It is also generally accepted that the Snake River Basin had about half of the annual run or 5-8 million fish annually. So, I ran the annual counts for the same 10 year period for all salmon and steelhead crossing over Ice Harbor Dam, the lowest dam on the Snake River, to see how those numbers compared to the 5-8 million fish that is generally accepted as what were historical runs of wild fish. The numbers add up to 3,674,471. Again, in 10 years today we don't meet the threshold for what we got back in one year historically and unlike those Oregon dam numbers we see that the Snake River counts don't even meet the lower threshold of historically accepted abundance of fish in one year. In 10 years we are actually short by a little more than 1.3 million fish on the lower threshold of 5 million fish and 4.3 million short in 10 years of meeting the high end threshold historically for one year.
I also looked at historical estimates from 1900. Those too, were annual estimates and historically the Snake River in 1900 had 45,000-55,000 sockeye swimming up it that year versus 4,159 sockeye that swam up the Snake River between Jan. 1, 2002 and Dec. 31, 2011.
In 1900, we had 450,000 fall Chinook and 2,000,000 spring/summer Chinook swimming up the Snake River. Over the past 10 years, we only had 1,270,641 spring/summer/fall Chinook swimming up the Snake and that is with the aid of all the hatcheries. Yes, there were hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest in 1900, but there were none in Idaho then. Hagerman National Fish Hatchery was operational in 1933 and didn't rear steelhead until the 1980s. The state of Idaho and the Civilian Conservation Corps built a rainbow trout hatchery in American Falls in 1934. Idaho Power's Rapid River Hatchery near Riggins was the first to produce Chinook salmon in 1964. So, in 1900, we are talking about wild fish and back then 2,450,000 Chinook came back to the Snake River annually. The Snake River flows through part of Washington state as well, but the first hatchery built there was in 1895 on the Kalama River, which is a tributary of the Columbia River. The Snake River also makes up some of the border between Idaho and eastern Oregon, but there weren't any hatcheries operating in that area in 1900. The first hatchery in the Pacific Northwest was built on the Clackamas River in Oregon in 1877.
We dump about 141 million smolts into the Columbia and Snake River basins each year from hatcheries and in 10 years we don't get what we used to get in one year without doing any fish rearing.
Also, in 1900 we had about 325,000 steelhead swimming up the Snake River each year. Over the past 10 years we did eclipse that annual mark with 2,372,798 steelhead swimming up the Snake over that same 10 year period, but that means we are still 88,000 steelhead short each year of the 1900 abundance. In 1900, those 325,000 steelhead were wild, in the last 10 years only 461,618 were wild, about 46,000 wild steelhead in the Snake per year, which is a far cry from 325,000.
Now 1900 isn't some magical year and quite frankly it is scary to realize that in 1883, just 17 years before there were 4.6 million Chinook in the lower Columbia River. That number is a pretty good estimate as it was based on the commercial fishing haul that year. Seventeen years later and the lower Columbia only had 500,000 Chinook in it. Yes, overfishing was a huge problem back then. Today the problem is the dams, especially the lower Snake River dams that make extinction not just a question of if with a high probability, but really only a question of when.
A lot of people today don't see that our salmon are in peril, because they are being fed story after story of larger fish runs that often don't materialize. No preseason estimate was nearly correct this year, only Columbia River sockeye exceeded expectations, but in that forecast they totally missed the mark on Snake River sockeye, which they estimated would be 1,900; there were 450 sockeye over Ice Harbor Dam, yet 475 over the next dam upstream Lower Monumental. In either case for the Snake River forecast, the forecast was four times higher than the actual run. These preseason forecasts aren't reliable and aren't very responsible because they create a false perception that simply doesn't exist. That false perception is to lull you into believing things are getting better. I say take a longer look at the actual numbers and tell me if you believe things are really getting better for endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead. Remember, too, that the wild fish today makeup only 20 percent of the run, if that.