Sockeye Salmon are an anadromous fish species, which means they are born at the headwaters of cold mountain streams, but spend the majority of their lives in the ocean. To get there, they migrate downstream from their hatching grounds through the river channels leading to the ocean – sometimes over 1,000 miles. When they are old enough to spawn, or reproduce, they migrate all the way back upstream to where they were born – their spawning grounds. These salmon migrations are vital for salmon species survival, but dams, mines, and other human activities have been threatening these migration paths for decades.
In 2021, there were four wild adult Sockeye Salmon that survived the migration back to their spawning grounds at the headwaters of the Salmon River in central Idaho. Scientists blame the high mortality rates in Snake River Basin salmon on the four lower Snake River dams that quite literally have the salmon running into walls.
In April, 2022, The Grand Salmon team set off on an expedition from the headwaters of the Salmon River to the Pacific Ocean, following the natural migration of these anadromous fish. Each woman on the team brought an academic background in environmental or fisheries science, plus careers as professional whitewater kayakers and river guides.
The women spent 78 days skiing, whitewater kayaking, and sea kayaking 1,000+ miles source-to-sea through Idaho, Oregon, and Washington as a conservation campaign promoting the removal of the four lower Snake River dams, in order to save the rapidly dwindling Snake River Basin salmon populations from extinction.
They timed their expedition to follow the natural outward migration path of the juvenile salmon smolts on their way from their hatching/spawning grounds to the Pacific Ocean, and spent a significant portion of the expedition campaigning via social media and grassroots events for dam removal. They reached the ocean on July 15th, around the same time the salmon smolts reached the ocean, and around the same time the White House Council on Environmental Quality released a statement urging Congress to breach the four lower Snake River dams!
The team has beautiful footage from the expedition, and even better stories to tell. The short film they are producing will use the expedition narrative as a catalyst to tell the story of the declining salmon populations of the Snake River Basin, and how the communities surrounding the river are fighting for their restoration.
Two main themes arose while the team was on the water:
- This expedition was the biggest challenge every member of the expedition team has ever chosen to take on. If it was this challenging for these sponsored whitewater kayakers who had every resource available to them to navigate around these dams and reservoirs, we are having a hard time understanding how the 3-inch-long juvenile salmon are expected to do so.
- The expedition highlighted just how interconnected everything within the watershed is. What happens upstream impacts everything downstream, and vice versa. The team both witnessed and experienced the devastating impacts that the Stibnite Gold Mine has on everything downstream, as well as the impacts that the lower four Snake River dams have on everything upstream.