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A Spa For Fish: Yakama Nation Creates Refuge for Exhausted Fish

Anna King
Joe Blodgett, right, with the Yakama Nation's steelhead rehabilitation center, lifts a fish out a tub where they're fed highly nutritious pellets.

When a Columbia River steelhead completes its epic journey from ocean to spawning grounds, it’s usually too exhausted to go downriver 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. And 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 alone 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. 

“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,” said Joe Blodgett, who runs this program for the Yakama Nation fisheries in Prosser.

Inside huge tubs, large shadowy fish swim in circles. They spawned last fall, and they’re now fed highly-nutritious pellets. Their silvery bellies are once again swollen with fat and eggs. 

In these jobs, it’s routine to get splashed with icy water by a flapping tail or two. This is the twelfth year of this fish rehabilitation program, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each season. Bonneville Power pays for the program, which Blodgett says 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 go with his father. 

“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,” he said.

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

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.