Monday, June 29, 2015

Little White Salmon Hatchery

As a travel writer, I have always loved the life cycle story of the salmon.  Their journey from hatchery or spawning grounds to the ocean and then back again is an astounding one.  These fish were born to travel and they do so out of an instinct that scientists have yet to adequately explain.

My travel buddy and I toured three different hatcheries last weekend but the Little White Salmon hatchery on the Washington side of the Columbia River was, by far, the most beautiful.  Established in 1896, this hatchery is the oldest working one in the area.  Two kinds of salmon are raised here:  The Spring Chinooks, which are still visible, and the bigger Fall Chinooks.  Both are commonly known as "King Salmon."

If it weren't for these hatcheries, we would not be eating salmon today.  The salmon population declined at an alarming rate in the late 1800's due to over harvesting and loss of habitat.  Dams along the Columbia thwarted the salmons' efforts to return back to spawn.  Today, numbers are slowly recovering, but it will never reach that multiple million peak of years gone by.

It will be fascinating to come back to the Little White Salmon Hatchery in the fall to witness their return--thousands upon thousands of chinook all stacked up at this barrier dam.  In the ponds above, they began their life.  And here, they will end it.

When they were released from the hatchery they swam down the Little White Salmon River, across Drano Lake and then down the Columbia to the mouth.  Here they stayed a couple of weeks to get used to the salty water before continuing their journey to British Columbia or Alaska.  After one to five years at sea, they then begin the harrowing trip back home, upstream this time, dodging fishermen, bears, birds and navigating waterfalls and dams.  Fish ladders aid them in their climb back home.  Even so, only a small percentage make it back.

There's a visitor center at the hatchery filled with informative exhibits, as well as a a basement viewing area where you can watch the salmon swimming in the holding tank.  Outside is a viewing platform overlooking the fish ladder and barrier dam.  The hatchery is open daily from 7:30 am to 4 pm.  

It was a fun place to begin my own journey:  To follow the salmon from the Columbia River all the way up to Alaska.  (And dare I add;  To catch a few along the way.  Yum!!)


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