The “June Hogs” of the Columbia River

June hogs were the largest Chinook salmon caught in the summer migratory runs on the Columbia River. Often weighing at least 36 kg (80 Lbs), these enormous salmon were regularly caught and were capable of swimming over 1,500 Km up the Columbia River. They were destined to spawn in the upper reaches of the Columbia River, beyond the Canadian border.

Now five dams built without fish passes stand in the way of salmon reaching the tributaries flowing off the Rocky Mountains

These fish have now gone. Overfishing was a major pressure; there were 39 canneries operating in the Columbia basin as early as 1883. However, the construction of the 168 m high Grand Coulee Dam (1942) – which has no fish pass – ultimately wiped these great salmon out by blocking access to upper third of the river.

It was well-known that the construction of Grand Coulee Dam would impact anadromous fish runs upstream of the dam so a plan to “relocate” the runs was devised. This centred around trapping all adult anadromous fish migrating upstream at the dam site from the years 1939 – 1943 (inclusive) and either penning them up to spawn inside fenced reaches constructed in downstream tributaries, or artificially spawning them in hatcheries and releasing the offspring into these areas. This was all a total waste of time of time of course. Grand Coulee Dam, completed in 1941, wiped out the June Hogs and all other upper-Columbia salmon, steelhead and lampreys, as the dam blocked access to more than 1,770 km of spawning habitat in the upper 1/3 of the catchment.

Grand Coulee Dam also flooded over 85 km2 of land where Native Americans had been living and hunting for thousands of years, forcing the relocation of settlements and graveyards.

Grand Coulee Dam, completed in 1941, wiped out the June Hogs and all other upper-Columbia salmon, steelhead and lampreys

The Grand Coulee Dam also influenced the subsequent decision not to provide for fish passage at Chief Joseph Dam (1953) which is located downstream. Now five dams built without fish passes stand in the way of salmon reaching the tributaries flowing off the Rocky Mountains.

The river still yields the occasional large Chinook, destined perhaps for the Hanford Reach of the Columbia or the mountains of Idaho in the Snake River catchment. But these fish are never more than half the size of the famous June Hogs.

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