A truck transporting 102,000 young Chinook salmon crashed on its way to Oregon’s Imnaha at the end of March. According to the Washington Post, the driver was okay with only minor injuries but the fish weren’t as lucky. More than 25,000 died when the driver rolled the 53-foot rig onto its roof on a sharp bend along Lookingglass Creek. The truck then slid down the bank dumping an estimated 77,000 live smolts into the creek. 

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“The 77,000 fish that made it into Lookingglass Creek will likely return there and produce approximately 350-700 additional adults,” stated Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in an agency news release. “The smolts lost represent about 20 percent of the total that will be released into the Imnaha River this year.”

The Nez Perc Tribe, which co-manages the area’s salmon fishery with the ODFW, helped the department collect the dead smolts that didn’t make it into the water while also scanning for trackable tags and tallying the loss. It could result in up to 900 fewer salmon returning starting in 2026.

“We are thankful the ODFW employee driving the truck was not seriously injured,” said Andrew Gibbs, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Eastern Oregon fish hatchery coordinator. “This should not impact our ability to collect future brood stock or maintain full production goals in the future.”

Those production goals are closely monitored in the Pacific Northwest because Chinook salmon are protected by the Endangered Species Act. Lookingglass Hatchery, where the tanker’s stock originated, is one of several hatcheries raising salmon as a mitigation effort. Hatchery fish are meant to compensate for wild fish lost due to dams producing hydropower, including dams on the Lower Snake River. Releasing hatchery fish into wild waters supplements the system while also providing tribal and sport harvest. 

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Images shared by ODFW and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service show piles of dead hatchery salmon on the banks near the overturned tanker on a stretch of narrow highway 30 miles outside of La Grande, Oregon, but this isn’t the first massive fish kill in the region this year. As Field & Stream reported in early March, 830,000 young fall Chinook died during release out of another facility, Fall Creek Fish Hatchery in northern California. They were meant for the Klamath River where dam removal is underway. Those fish died of gas bubble disease, which happens when the pressure changes while passing through a tunnel at the base of a dam.