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Thermal Barrier

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Ronan's report


Wednesday 5th August, 2009

What do you get when you take the greatest salmon and steelhead river on earth, add a bunch of dams that back up, slow down, and spread out the water, and then add a couple of weeks of temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit?

For a hint, read the headline.

Dams can create physical barriers for fish, and also temperature barriers.

These dams on the Columbia River have been equipped with fish ladders to allow salmon and steelhead to pass upstream. But, when the water flowing through the fish ladders gets to warm for these coldwater loving salmonids pleasure, they won't continue moving upstream normally. Many of these adult fish will wait for water to cool off. They may be delayed up to a month or more.

So, what’s the big deal? Well, run timing is disrupted. The great fish, who enter fresh water packing enough energy on their bodies for their journey to spawn (these steelhead don't spawn until next April or May!) waste loads of that energy just trying to survive, still hundreds of miles from the spawning grounds. Warm water carries less dissolved oxygen. The fish become weak, and more susceptible to disease.

On top of that, you can have issues with survival of downstream migrating juvenile salmon, that can't handle the warm water and reduced levels of oxygen.

Even some tributary rivers where fly anglers like to fish for steelhead are getting too warm. So, we've imposed a thermal barrier of sorts on ourselves. When the water gets too warm, we quit fishing for steelhead, since hooking a wild steelhead in warm water can easily kill it. It's the only thermal barrier out there that's helping these great fish. If you are interested in what temperatures are dangerous to fish in your local rivers or streams, consult a regional fisheries biologist, and tell them what you are interested in. If they can only tell you a range of temperatures, play it safe, and stop fishing at the coolest temperature they mention.

Fish On,
Matt


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