Wild Salmon Center was founded in 1992 by avid fly-fishermen Pete Soverel and Tom Pero. Former Navy captain Pete Soverel wanted to understand the mysteries of some of the Pacific’s most storied and productive salmon streams, before they were gone. He knew some of the greatest salmon and steelhead rivers lay in the Russian Far East, but they were off limits to Westerners and Russians alike for more than a generation. In 1994, he began searching them out by organizing expeditions with scientists and fishermen to the rivers of Kamchatka, a sparsely populated 800-mile-long peninsula that had hosted former Soviet navy and air force installations.
The organization’s early years focused on simultaneous fly fishing and research expeditions to Kamchatka, and they yielded important new discoveries about the life histories of steelhead through an initiative called The Kamchatka Steelhead Project. Fly fishermen funded and participated in joint research by Russia’s Moscow State University, WSC, and University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station – catching steelhead on flies, allowing researchers to collect data on the fish, and then releasing them (see feature from Outside Magazine).
The angling side of the project spun off in 2003 to Soverel’s organization, The Conservation Angler. WSC continues to be involved in Kamchatka steelhead research, working with the Russian Academy of Sciences under an ongoing, high-level collaborative science and conservation agreement between the United States and Russia that dates back to 1972.
Protecting a river system before it’s broken is a far cheaper and simpler strategy than trying to rebuild a river after it has been degraded.
In 1998, Soverel hired Guido Rahr as the organization’s first executive director. Guido was also one of the first western anglers in Kamchatka, and he came to Pete with a vision: a Pacific Rim network of protected salmon rivers, or strongholds. With an expanding staff, Rahr and WSC reoriented toward preemptively protecting Russia and North America’s salmon strongholds, making them the center of our work. Protecting a river system before it’s broken is a far cheaper and simpler strategy than trying to rebuild a river after it has been degraded. And the fate of salmon for the entire region depends on a viable network of strongholds.
Over the last two decades, we have built up a network of strongholds by securing more than 9 million acres of habitat protection and 71 rivers are now being managed for wild fish populations. Habitat protections include reserves spanning more than 2 million acres in the Russian Far East, and more than 140,000 acres of conservation areas on Oregon’s North Coast. We helped establish wild fish sanctuaries along the Oregon Coast and are working on similar policy in Washington and California. As part of a broad coalition, we worked to protect rivers around Bristol Bay, Alaska from mining claims, laying the groundwork for permanent protection in the home of the world’s largest sockeye run. We also partner with local groups around the North Pacific, to strengthen local stewardship and ensure long term salmon conservation.