March of every year brings forecasts for the runs of salmon and steelhead that will be returning to the Columbia and Snake Rivers. This year’s predictions were presented to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at their March meeting a few weeks ago. The results aren’t pretty. For three of Idaho’s four remaining species of wild anadromous fish, 2024 looks to be as bad as or worse than 2023. 

Spring/Summer Chinook

Last year, only about 6,000 wild spring/summer Chinook made it to Lower Granite Dam, the last dam on the lower Snake River. This year’s run will be about the same: only 7,000 wild fish are expected to make it that far upriver. That’s well below the 10-year average of about 11,500 returning adults and just 5% of the state’s recovery goal. These fish will benefit the most from planned temporary operational changes, which push young salmon over the top of the dams, rather than through their turbines. These changes were announced as part of the December 2023 Columbia-Snake River Agreement.

Fall Chinook

In 2023, about 7,500 wild fall-run Chinook returned to Idaho in the late summer and early fall to spawn in the Clearwater River and Hells Canyon. Of all our anadromous fish, these fall Chinook have been doing the best, but this year their numbers are projected to decline to only about 6,000 returning adults. This is below the 10-year average and only about 25% of the way toward the state’s recovery goal. These fish will face worse conditions in their migration due to other temporary operational changes made as concessions in the December agreement.



Idaho’s iconic red fish faced tough conditions last year. Only 31 wild sockeye made it all the way back to the Sawtooth Valley and Redfish Lake. This year’s forecast projects that 195 wild sockeye will make it to Lower Granite Dam—it’s not clear what portion of those will endure the second half of the journey from Idaho’s border to its heart. If summertime heat waves occur as they have in previous years, it may become necessary for state agencies to transport sockeye via truck from Lower Granite to Redfish. This intervention—while necessary—is expensive and fraught with risk. When populations of salmon are so low, they’re more vulnerable to random events wiping out a significant number of them. 


Steelhead are the lone projected bright spot for this year. A near-record low 13,631 wild steelhead trout were counted at Lower Granite Dam last year. Of those, just 910 were Idaho’s famously large B-run fish, prized by anglers around the world. These massive steelhead are unique to Idaho, and they’re disappearing fast. This year will provide some respite: 19,000 steelhead are expected to arrive at Lower Granite Dam. This is around the same as the ten-year average, but far away from the state’s recovery goal, which calls for more than 100,000 wild steelhead returning to Idaho each year. 

Idaho’s salmon and steelhead are in dire straits. While ocean and climate conditions can shift their populations up and down slightly each year, their overall trend is negative. The only action that could reverse that trend is breaching of the four lower Snake River dams. This would ease the migratory pathway for these fish and let more of them make it safely to the Pacific Ocean. Paired with a broad suite of other actions to protect habitat and control predators, salmon would be restored. Until we do that, future forecasts will be similarly dark.

Help build a brighter future for our wild salmon and steelhead. Take action today by contacting your elected officials and urge them to support taking next steps toward salmon abundance!


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