Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Snorkeling With Salmon

Snorkeling With Salmon

AARON SCOTT: It’s a rare person
who would look at this and think, “Man, that’d make for
some killer snorkeling.” [ water bubbling ] But that’s exactly
what attracts nearly a hundred people
to the Salmon River on a clear July morning. – Let’s see, how many people
have done this before? Raise your hands. Look at that. That’s awesome. While fun is a big part of it,
the main goal of the day is to count every spring Chinook
and steelhead fish in the Salmon River watershed. As crazy as that seems, they’ve been doing it
for 24 years. That makes this
one of the longest and most comprehensive fish
surveys on the West Coast. – Okay, so we need at least
one person for this reach. Professional biologists work
side-by-side with volunteers. The teams divide the forks
of the Salmon River and its tributaries, more than
80 miles of river in all, into 3- to 4-mile stretches. – Who would like to go
with Jimmy? Bobby? And the man who claims
the most dangerous reach? Will Harling. What do you think? That could be —
this could be you. All right, so we’re going
to need to flag our put-in and John’s take-out
right over there. Will’s team consists
of biologist Sophie Price and Alan Crockett, and for the first time, Will’s 14-year-old son,
Owen. WILL:
Owen, I’m really excited. This is your first run
on our home river. French to Matthews is one of the most dangerous reaches
on the river. SOPHIE:
And beautiful. And beautiful — deep pools,
big waterfalls. There’s a beautiful hole
right around the corner here that sometimes has
up to 40 fish in it. I’m not expecting
to see much today. The Salmon River fish dive
is co-run by the Salmon River
Restoration Council and the U.S. Forest Service. In the world of biology,
it’s rare to try to count an entire population,
because it’s a lot of work. But they do it here because it’s
such a small and important run. WILL: The survey, we work
together as a team. We have to walk around
the rapids. Sometimes you can float through, and it’s kind of
a judgment call of whether it’s safe or not. [ splash ] And one person will flush out
the bubble curtain in case fish are hanging up
in the bubbles. And then we go through the hole. We did see one pod of five
healthy Chinook in one pool. It was beautiful. They circled up for a minute
before they scattered. In bountiful years,
they compare counts at the bottom of each pool. But this year, the salmon
have been elusive. Then it’s searching
under ledges, diving along the margins
and going under the boulders. You see anything? OWEN:
I didn’t either. The Salmon River flows through
steep mountain valleys. It’s accessible by foot
only in places. And you can forget
about cell service, which means the team
has to carry everything they’ll need
in their packs. And should someone get hurt, it’s going to be
a hard hike out. SOPHIE:
It’s kind of the primo reach. It’s also the most advanced, but also, I think,
the most beautiful, and there’s lots of
big, deep pools. Sophie has snorkeled
multiple reaches over the past few years
as a biologist for the Karuk Tribe,
but never this one. You definitely get a little
banged up going down rapids — if you’re going down
the exciting ones. AARON SCOTT:
How do you protect yourself? SOPHIE:
My personal strategy is wearing a really thick
wetsuit. And then I always have my hands
out in front of my face, because you often dive straight
into a bubble curtain, and then you also can’t see
anything, so it’s extra exciting. OWEN:
There was one time where I almost went over
a small fall headfirst because it looked so similar
underwater to a lot of the riffles. But I kind of caught myself
and avoided that. It’s so amazing. Like, there was this one moment
today where there was a fish
kind of resting near a rock. As it was swimming away, it kind of just swam
right over my hand and about 4 inches from my mask. And it was just such
an incredible experience. WILL: He inspires me to see it
through new eyes, watching him and seeing how
he moves across the rocks, how he moves through the water. It gives me hope that
there’s going to be people doing this dive
for another 20 years. – Woo! So what do we got
for the tally so far? We’ve got 14 Chinook adults
and one jack, that you saw, and we got eight half-pounders. Well, it’s bad,
but it could be worse. Heh. That’s true. To give a sense
of just how bad, this is footage Will shot
in these pools in years past. And this is now. For Will, the salmon are much
more than just numbers. They’re practically family. He was born just up the river’s
banks in an old mining cabin. WILL: You know, when I was a kid
growing up on the Salmon River, fishing for spring Chinook
salmon was a way of life. Pretty much every hole
had fish in it. But in the mid-80s,
that changed. And all of a sudden,
the salmon were dying from a thousand cuts,
from the legacy of mining, from the legacy of logging, and then finally
from the droughts. Biologists have documented
that the spring runs have fallen from thousands
of fish to hundreds. We knew there weren’t enough
to harvest anymore. And that was a really, really
sad time for me. I want to pass that on to Owen,
the ability to be able to come down
and feel that responsibility, to have a role,
to feed the family. And we’re a long ways
from that right now. The salmon decline impacts more
than just the local ecosystem. The Salmon River
flows into the Klamath River, which has its headwaters
in Oregon. And there’s a plan pending
to remove the Klamath’s four dams
beginning in 2020. This is the last wild run
of spring Chinook salmon in the Klamath River system. So with dam removal
right around the corner, looking to what
are those genetics that are going restore
the spring-run salmon to the Upper Klamath Basin. I mean, these are those fish. New research shows
spring Chinook are evolutionarily distinct
from fall Chinook. So to further protect these
Salmon River springers, the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon
River Restoration Council have petitioned to get them
listed as endangered. So the fact that we have
a couple hundred fish hanging on here
is absolutely critical. The shadows are growing long by the time Will and his team
finish their reach. Any hope that other teams
might have fared better evaporates as they return
to town. Let’s see. We’ll fill this in. There is one last tributary
left to count, but so far, the total stands at only 123
spring Chinook adults in all of the Salmon River
watershed. WILL:
That is pathetic. WILL: [ groans ]
Second-worst year on record. Second or third. I mean, we don’t know.
Last year — Will holds out hope
that removing the Klamath River dams, and
other conservation measures, along with the protections that would come from
an endangered species listing, could help the spring Chinook
rebound. Because the idea of a Salmon
River without salmon? It’s just unimaginable. It makes me feel sick
in my stomach, you know? I mean, I always said
I wouldn’t want to be alive if my kid wouldn’t be able
to fish in the Salmon River, wouldn’t be able to see salmon. It’s part of who we are. You got to keep the faith,
because what else is there?

2 comments on “Snorkeling With Salmon

  1. This was so very interesting to watch! I heard of swimming with the dolphins, but swimming with the salmon!!? WHAT!! Thanks Vivi for sharing this with us! 👍👍 Bob sure had some fascinating hobbies and activities he participated in! 🤗😘

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