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Pacific Salmon

Paul Nicklen / National Geographic

One of the most enduring icons of the Pacific Northwest, Pacific salmon have been the lifeblood of generations of fishermen and are an integral part of communities up and down the West coast. Salmon are anadromous, which means they are born in fresh water but migrate to the oceans to mature. Adult salmon have an uncanny ability to return to the same exact stream in which they were born and migrate upstream to spawn. In the last century, the construction of large dams along many of the West’s great rivers, such as the Columbia, Sacramento and Klamth, have decimated many Pacific salmon species.

Climate Change Impacts

Adapted for cold water, Pacific salmon cannot survive prolonged exposure to stream temperatures above 70 °F. In fact, the "red" or sockeye salmon (pictured above) are already extinct over much of their range in part because of warmer water conditions. If stream or ocean temperatures continue to rise, sockeye may be pushed entirely out of their native Pacific range. Warmer temperatures may also reduce snowmelt, which is the source of water for many salmon streams in the West.