Historic runs of what were wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia/Snake were about 16 million up to 30 million wild salmon and wild steelhead.
Today the run is made up of both hatchery and natural/wild salmon and steelhead. We make about 141 million hatchery fish, or I should say that is the rough amount we release into the river each year as smolts or parr or some other stage of the salmonid life cycle that isn't an egg (which we place plenty of those in boxes in streams too).
The share of the run between hatchery and natural/wild salmon and steelhead is roughly 80 percent hatchery returns and 20 percent natural/wild returns.
For anyone confused by my use of natural/wild that is what we have to do today to distinguish the fact that in many, many streams our salmon and steelhead can swim back to that our manipulations and love of hatcheries (bucket biology sanctioned by government) we use the term natural or natural origin to recognize that a population of seemingly wild fish are really something else like the remnant of something we did or perhaps the remnant of what God/nature put in place there too strongly influenced by some fish we threw in there.
Wild fish are the fish that matter in regards of the inclusion or removal from the Endangered Species Act and we need a sustained 2-6 percent SAR for eight straight years in our endangered and threatened fish in order to remove those fish from the endangered species list, which many politicians would rather we did away with the act rather than try to keep as diverse a flora and fauna signature in our surroundings as we can.
We have not had, above the lower Snake River dams, anything close to the necessary smolt to adult return rates required to remove our endangered stocks off the list.
I promised rough math so let's get to it. Last year we had roughly 677,000 adult Chinook, 186,000 jack Chinook, 145,000 coho, 4,600 jack coho, 186,000 sockeye, 367,000 hatchery steelhead, 128,109 wild steelhead, 3,900 pink salmon and 28 chum salmon. That's what crossed Bonneville Dam last year and that totals about 1.7 million fish.
That is about 10 percent of the historical run size of 16 million to 30 million wild salmon in the original Columbia Snake river basins (16 million is the more acceptable historical run figure so last year the hatchery/natural/wild run was 10.6 percent of historical runs of wild fish.
Roughly speaking wild/natural fish have been making up about 20 percent of the run. That would mean about 340,000 are wild, but that is an estimate as wild steelhead were counted and there are 128,000 of those and they were about 26 percent of the total steelhead run. Let's say for argument sake of those who would rather see salmon extinct in the Columbia/Snake that last year's run of wild fish was 26 percent of the total run.
That bumps our natural/wild number up to 442,000 instead of 340,000. What do these numbers represent versus historical numbers of what were all wild salmon and wild steelhead? The larger 442,000 wild or natural figure means about 2.7 percent of our wild fish (actually less since many are natural origin and not wild) are still around. Or using the lower 20 percent figure we have 2.1 percent of what we used to get back for free, by doing nothing.
The Bonneville Power Administration spends $650 million annually on salmon mitigation programs due to dams (which is more money than the construction cost of Lower Granite Dam) and wild salmon and steelhead are literally on the edge of history about to become extinct.
Another more sad chapter is that the Snake River Basin made up half the historical runs of wild fish.
Using Ice Harbor Dam counts from 2011 we had about 127,000 Chinook, 50,000 jack Chinook, 5,900 coho, 813 jack coho, 1,141 sockeye, 199,000 steelhead, 49,394 wild steelhead, and 38 pink salmon. A total of 433,000 fish going into the Snake River. If the Snake was half the historical run it had 8 million to 15 million wild salmon and wild steelhead with 8 million being the more acceptable figure.
In the Snake we only have 5.4 percent of the historical run size in 2011 and now we must do the wild fish math. At 20 percent we would have 86,600 of those fish being natural/wild. We have the hatchery/wild steelhead breakdown for the Snake and it shows about 19.89 percent of the run being wild/natural or 86,123.7 fish, so let's just use 20 percent and 86,600. We only got back 1.08 percent of the historical run using our extrapolated wild fish figure.
Do you still think we can have our dams and wild salmon and steelhead too?