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​Salmon and Steelhead

Culvert replacements, such as this one in the Grande Ronde, open up access
to prime spawning habitat.

Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead are born in freshwater rivers, lakes and streams. As juveniles they migrate to the ocean, where they spend most of their adult life. They return to Columbia River as 2, 3, 4 and 5-year old fish, where they spawn in their natal waters. Fish that migrate to the ocean and back are also known as anadromous fish. The Pacific Lamprey is also an anadromous fish.

These fish rely on many environments as they grow and mature, each with its own survival challenges. Most of their habitat has been affected by over a century of human development, including overharvest, mining and logging, as well as the dams. Today, thirteen species of Columbia River Basin fish are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

BPA, with its many federal, state, tribal and local partners, takes a comprehensive approach – or “All H” strategy that helps address these challenges in all parts of the salmon and steelhead life in freshwater.

A juvenile lamprey, one of many being raised at tribal hatcheries in the Columbia River Basin.


Habitat restoration projects include such things as adding water to streams, opening up side channels to provide refuge and rearing habitat, opening up floodplains and protecting land through conservation easements and purchases. BPA and its partners have opened up more than 2,200 miles of spawning and rearing habitat since 2007 – twice the length of the Columbia River.

Scientifically-managed hatcheries are helping to bolster stocks and managed to help protect wild fish.

Surface passage (shown in the two nearest spillbays) provides a safer route past the dams for juvenile fish. All eight federal dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers now have surface passage routes. 

Predator management such as BPA’s pikeminnow sport reward has helped reduce predation on salmon and steelhead by birds, sea lions, and other fish.

BPA supports hydro actions to help these fish get safely past the dams. To get to the ocean, many species of anadromous fish pass through one or more dams on the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS). Surface passage (see photo) and spill at these dams provide higher survival and faster travel times for juvenile fish. Fish ladders provide safe adult fish passage.

The goal of all of these efforts is for current and future generations to be able to experience a Northwest with abundant fish runs. Our way of life and our economy depend upon the river and its fish.

For more information, explore:

Columbia Basin Federal Caucus: Ten federal agencies, including BPA, that have natural resource responsibilities working together for ESA-listed salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.

Biological Opinion for operation of the FCRPS: NOAA Fisheries analysis and findings on operation of the FCRPS for ESA-listed Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead 

Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program (cbfish):  This is a web application that allows BPA and its partners to manage fish and wildlife activities and accomplishments. See details on the hundreds of projects completed or underway.