Filmmaker Explores Possible Extinction of Early Run Pacific Chinook Salmon

Image: Swiftwater Films.

Good news for fans of award winning documentary filmmaker Shane Anderson’s latest film, “The Lost Salmon.” The documentary will be available for viewing via download from public television stations at through Oct. 29, 2025.

Anderson, of Olympia, Washington, has spent the better part of the past decade documenting wild salmon in Pacific waterways. He is also the director of storytelling for Pacific Rivers, a Portland, Oregon-based river conservation organization.

“The Lost Salmon” chronicles the challenges of and potential recovery prospects of the iconic spring Chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest, and the new genetic discovery that could aid in their recovery.  At the moment, this iconic, genetically distinct wild salmon, is running out of time.

Critics describe the film as devastating, but also hopeful.

Anderson said his original idea to was to do a film on geneticist Mike Miller of the University of California-Davis, but then his focus turned to a personal mission on the plight of the spring run Chinook salmon. 

Anderson notes that salmon are one of the most complex animals on earth, because of their local adaptation and how different populations of salmon have different genetic codes adapted to individual environments.

That’s why you can’t take a salmon from one river and put it in another and expect it to thrive. They have adapted to specific places for 15 million years. There is a specific gene in the spring run Chinook that tells this fish when to return home and optimum type to inhabit different habitats.  

In media interviews regarding the documentary, Anderson has said that what he wants to accomplish is to raise awareness and see that recovery plans for the spring run Chinooks are put together to save this fish. Modern science, he said, is just catching up with what indigenous people have been saying for thousands of years.

Indigenous people know that spring Chinook are different than fall Chinook and Anderson hopes that ancient knowledge can be implemented into science. The research coming out of UC-Davis is something they have been preaching forever, he remarked.

It is critical to recover these genetic populations and not just rely on hatcheries, as our silver bullet, he commented.

“I’m hopeful in some places and terrified in others,” he said. “We are not going to recover populations on the Oregon coast and Washington coast and Puget Sound without reforming the mixed stock fisheries in Alaska who are harvesting endangered fish while harvesting other fish.”

The states of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska have collectively spent millions of dollars in efforts to help Chinook salmon survive. The struggle has made for some contentious testimony at federal fisheries management meetings, as it impacts commercial groundfish fisheries.