Fish in Northwest have new hopes for home In this undated photo provided by NOAA Fisheries, underwater antennas are visible stretching across the Little River, a tributary of the Elwha River in Washington state, where they track fish as part of intensively monitored watershed studies to determine how the fish respond to habitat restoration. (John McMillan/NOAA Fisheries/Thinkstock)
Fish in Northwest have new hopes for home

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Scientists in the Pacific Northwest are studying more than a dozen watersheds. They want to develop templates on habitat restoration. The templates could be used in similar streams to bolster struggling fish populations.
The federal government lists 28 populations of salmon and steelhead on the West Coast that need protections. This is due to low numbers.  This is despite spending millions of dollars every year on restoration efforts.
The studies aim to make those efforts more successful. They focus on 17 watersheds.  They are in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Northern California and British Columbia.  Scientists examine the benefit of everything from dam removal to building artificial beaver dams in tributaries.
Creating templates for habitat restoration could save time and money. They could use strategies known to produce good results in similar habitats in the region, said George Pess.  He is a research fisheries biologist. He works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"The overall goal is to learn enough to be smart about our restoration," he said.  The studies will offer recommendations to private, tribal and government entities, he noted. But the studies won't produce any legally binding regulations.
Most of the studies began in the 2000s. Pess said scientists are still discovering what works. The program will require years of monitoring. The scientists are examining how fish use waterways.  They want to learn about the challenges salmon and steelhead face throughout their lives in the different watersheds.
In previous restoration efforts, officials have taken out barriers such as dams. That opens up spawning habitat. The studies go further, as well. They try to determine whether removing the barriers leads fish to change when they go to the ocean and return as adults, Pess said. That would mean restoration efforts need to ensure enough water flows through streams at critical times.
"It's a terrific and much-needed project - getting a scientific basis for really teasing out the factors preventing the recovery of wild steelhead and salmon," said Guido Rahr.  He is president of the Wild Salmon Center.  It works to protect rivers and wild salmon populations. "They've chosen watersheds with diverse and different geographies. It's really going to be helpful."
In northern Idaho's Potlatch River, a tributary of the Clearwater River, monitoring started in 2005.  Restoration work began in 2009. About 1,000 wild steelhead use the Potlatch.
Last year, state workers for the first time counted steelhead spawning beds above an area where a dam had been removed, said Brian Knoth. He is a fisheries biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Whether opening new habitat increases fish numbers or simply causes the existing population to spread out is a frequent question in the 17 study areas.
To get an answer, scientists place small tags in fish that give off a signal when passing through an electronic field. That allows young fish leaving and then returning as adults to be counted.
On central Oregon's Bridge Creek, workers have built artificial beaver dams as part of the study, discovering that the real animals moved in to expand on human efforts.
"It's OK if natural beavers join in on the fun," said Stephen Bennett, a research associate of watershed sciences at Utah State University. He is involved with that and other studies.
Of the 17 studies, nine are in Washington state. Perhaps the most ambitious involves the Elwha River and the 2012 removal of a 100-foot dam that increased habitat by 300 percent. It more than a doubled spawning beds for Chinook salmon and steelhead above the dam site.

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How do dams help the fish?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • kerstynneh1-wes
    2/22/2016 - 02:30 p.m.

    the dams help the fish have more water because the water is overflowing so its gonna go higher and they have a better chance of staying alive.

  • kenziel-hol
    2/22/2016 - 07:49 p.m.

    The dams help the fish by giving it food?????

  • marvinh-kut
    2/23/2016 - 09:58 a.m.

    I like this article because, I learned something new I never about I found out that dams can help fish by increasing the habitat

  • alexad-hol
    2/23/2016 - 12:14 p.m.

    I think k studying this topic would be very interesting.

  • victoriag-hol
    2/24/2016 - 02:06 p.m.

    The scientists doing these experiments and getting all the data and there looking for a solution for the population of these fish. The dams that are set up are helping the scientists discover more of how the "fish use the waterways."

  • tessf-6-bar
    2/24/2016 - 06:36 p.m.

    Dams are beneficial for the fish because they provide a place for the salmon to lay their eggs. "That opens up spawning habitat" (paragraph 7).

    I found this interesting because I knew beavers used dams but was unaware that fish used dams too.

  • sams1-ver
    2/24/2016 - 07:58 p.m.

    I don`t get how people say lets save the planet like you would have to save it if you weren`t destroying it in the first place.

  • katherinec-3-bar
    2/25/2016 - 10:47 a.m.

    Dams are used by fish as safe places upstream to lay their eggs. In paragraph 7 it states, "That opens up spawning haditat." Once the eggs harsh Thea are able to just follow the stream down the river.

    I thought this article was interesting that fish have to work that hard at swimming upstream just to find a place to lay their eggs.

  • avab-4-bar
    2/26/2016 - 12:32 a.m.

    The Dams can help the fish by creating more spawn habitats, and the dams help them settle and reproduce.

    I found this article interesting because I never fully understood how these fish live and how their habitats are to portable in a sense. This article didn't surprise me.

  • gladysg-hol
    2/26/2016 - 07:38 a.m.

    The templates could be used in similar streams to bolster struggling fish populations. They are going to put a population of salmon and steelhead on the West Coast that need protections.

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