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Ecology and salmon related articles

22 Sockeye Return

by Jennifer Sandmann
Seattle Times - September 1, 2004

TWIN FALLS -- It's an 1,800-mile round-trip packed with obstacles and predators all the way from Stanley to the Pacific Ocean and back, and so far this year only 22 Snake River sockeye salmon have made it.

That's out of about 75,000 released two years ago for the migration to the Pacific.

Last year just three hearty fish survived their full migratory journey.

Another 88 sockeye have crossed Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in Washington this year. It's the last in the hurdle of eight federal Columbia River system dams the fish must pass on their return trip to the Salmon River to spawn in the lakes of the Sawtooth Valley near Stanley.

"Once they have reached Lower Granite Dam they have come 400 miles from the ocean. Stanley is about 900 miles from the ocean -- there is still 500 miles of something that could get in the way," said Bill Horton, salmon and steelhead coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

The department operates a cooperative sockeye program paid for by the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets hydropower from the federal dams. BPA funds the program's annual budget with $800,000.

Species preservation and research rather than recovery is the program's focus, said Catherine Willard, a Fish and Game Department fisheries biologist. Researchers seek to maintain a broodstock of wild sockeye, although realizing returns back to the Sawtooth Valley also is a good thing, she said.

Long-term the program aims to advance beyond its preservation focus to bolster numbers to recovery levels of 2,000 returning sockeye to Sawtooth Valley lakes.

The Snake River sockeye is among 13 salmon and steelhead species in the Columbia River Basin protected by the Endangered Species Act. The sockeye was listed as endangered in 1991, the year the Sawtooth Valley broodstock program began.

The greatest contributor to the fish's high mortality rate is the federal Columbia hydropower system, Horton said. Sockeye apparently are less fit to travel through the reservoirs than other migrating salmon species.

"There is just little that we do know about sockeyes, because we have so few of them to work with and study," he said.

Other causes of mortality include low water levels in the rivers as the fish are migrating to and from the ocean, river temperatures that become too warm, predators, and for the past couple of years, possibly a parasite, Willard said.

Researchers this year will be evaluating whether the parasite is contributing to a higher mortality rate once the fish pass Lower Granite on their way back to the Sawtooth Valley, she said.

Commercial or sport harvest of Snake River sockeye is not permitted, Horton said.

The final official number of 2004 sockeye returns is as follows: So…. The total is 27.

Related Pages:
Count the Fish by Government Accounting Office & Fish Passage Center
Two Days of Gillnets Approved by Allen Thomas, The Columbian 6/29/4

The sockeye are, for the most part, Wenatchee and Okanogan stock bound for the upper Columbia. The preseason forecast was for a return of 80,600 sockeye to the mouth of the Columbia, including 154 from the Snake River. That latter stock is listed as endangered.
from Summer Chinook Run Strong by Barry Espenson, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 6/25/4

Jennifer Sandmann
22 Sockeye Return
Seattle Times, September 1, 2004

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