Putting The Spa in Spawn: Tribe Creates Refuge For Exhausted Fish

By Anna King

When a Columbia River steelhead completes its epic journey from ocean to spawning grounds, it’s usually too exhausted to go down river again. Often, the fish just dies. But the Yakama Nation is changing that circle of life. Tribal biologists have created a rehabilitation center that helps steelhead recover so they can spawn again in the future. The Yakama fish spa is seeing more success.

When you just need to get away from the fast paced, rush of the river and want some me-time free of those small fry, come relax in a whirlpool of fresh cold water and enjoy a sampling of dried krill. The Yakama Nation’s salmon reconditioning program is a retreat spa -- for fish.

Joe Blodgett: “We’re hoping that with all the nutrients we can put back in them, they will regenerate the eggs and go back up and spawn for a second and third time.”

Joe Blodgett runs this program for the Yakama Nation fisheries in Prosser. Inside huge tubs, large shadowy fish swim in circles. They spawned last fall and now they’re fed highly nutritious pellets. Their silvery bellies are once again swollen with fat and eggs.

Joe Blodgett: “65, 54, 65 … mature.”

In these jobs, it’s routine to get splashed with icy water by a flapping tail or two. This is the 12th year of this fish rehabilitation program. It costs hundreds-of-thousands of dollars each season. Bonneville Power pays for it. But, Blodgett says it gives adult fish another chance to pick their own stream, mate and nesting site. Blodgett hopes he’s helping the fish to recover, so he can take his son fishing as often as he used to with his father.

Joe Blodgett: “Well, the salmon are part of us. They are part of our culture, part of our identity and part of bringing our people together. They mean a lot to us and we will just not accept that the population is diminishing.”

These chubby mamas -- some with pink and red backs – appear healthy and rested, ready to face life’s race upstream yet again.

Joe Blodgett: “Release.”

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