Salmon. Photo courtesy Yurok Tribe
Environment | National

Yurok Tribe forced to rely on outside salmon again as yearly festival approaches

The Yurok Tribe is dealing with historically low salmon runs for yet another year.

In a press release, Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., said the tribe had to purchase fish for its upcoming salmon festival because there weren't enough in the Klamath River. The 55th annual event takes place this Saturday, August 19, in Klamath, California.

“The Klamath River salmon stocks are in serious trouble,” O’Rourke said. “Rather than celebrate the return of the spawning salmon, as we normally do, the purpose of this year’s festival is to raise awareness about the struggling fish runs and to rally for the salmon of the Klamath River.”

The same thing happened last year, forcing the tribe to cancel the customary salmon lunch during the festival. O’Rourke blamed the low runs on poor water conditions and a fish disease that is fostered by those conditions.

“The Klamath salmon is as much a part of our traditional culture, as our prayers and our drums,” O’Rourke said. “That is what is at stake here, the continuation of our very existence as Yurok people. That is why the health of the river is so important to us.”

According to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a federal body, only 11,000 Chinook salmon are expected to return to the Klamath River this year. That's the smallest run in recorded history.

The tribe's allocation is about 600 salmon, or less than 1 fish for every 10 of its citizens. The salmon will be distributed to elders and used for ceremonies.