June Hogs (salmon)

Imagine a single salmon weighing eight-five pounds or more. These summer-run Chinook salmon, named "June hogs" for their hog-like fatness from back to belly, once plowed the waters of the Columbia from the estuary to the upper reaches of the river in British Columbia. They were prized by lower-river gillnetters, native peoples, and sport fishers.

One of the many summer Chinook populations was in the Spokane River, where the fish were a staple in the diets of the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene tribes. Grand Coulee Dam, completed in 1941, wiped out those fish populations and all other upper-Columbia salmon and steelhead, as the dam blocked access to more than 1,100 miles of spawning habitat.

June hogs had economic and cultural importance in Oregon. For millennia, mid-Columbia tribes who caught the fish at Celilo Falls used them for food but also for spiritual, ceremonial, and trade purposes. The fish were also prized by canning companies on the river. Francis Seufert, a fish canner at The Dalles, wrote: "Because of their size, when you packed them into cans, only one slice...was necessary to fill the can."

The river still yields the occasional large Chinook, forty or fifty pounds, destined perhaps for the Hanford Reach of the Columbia or the mountains of Idaho in the Snake River drainage. But even so impressive a modern fish cannot match the weight of its ancestors. 


Further Reading

Seufert, Francis. Wheels of Fortune.  Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1980.

Ulrich, Roberta. Empty Nets: Indians, Dams, and the Columbia River. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1999.

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This entry was last updated on March 17, 2018