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FEEDBACK: Snake River Sockeye Recovery Plan

by Scott Levy
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 19, 2010

RE: "Rebuilding Snake River Sockeye Run A Multi-Lake Recovery Strategy; 176 Natural-Born Return This Year"

Thanks are to be given to the Columbia Basin Bulletin for the update on Idaho's Sockeye Rebuilding program "Rebuilding Snake River Sockeye Run A Multi-Lake Recovery Strategy". Important work has been done by Idaho Fish & Game, Nez Perce and Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to rebuild this glorious fish run, which a decade ago were considered by many as being "virtually extinct". As you have reported, the rebuilding has this year brought 178 naturally produced spawners to their namesake Redfish Lake in central Idaho. But to suggest in the article's title that a recovery strategy is in place is in error.

I do not raise your attention to this lightly. For the last couple of years I have been trying to learn how the Action Agency plan would bring about a delisting of Idaho's Sockeye Salmon.

More time passed and I came to believe that indeed there was no Sockeye recovery plan envisioned by the Action Agencies. Then in August of 2010, the BPA Journal reported on the purchase of a trout farm near American Falls reservoir in Southeastern Idaho. "While sockeye still have a long way to go toward recovery, the proposed new hatchery should help get them there." Reinvigorated, I contacted BPA officials to learn how this hatchery would bring about Idaho's Sockeye recovery. I share what I have learned with your readers now.

BPA has committed to spend $4,750,000 on redesigning the Crystal Springs Trout Farm into a Sockeye hatchery to quintuple our current Sockeye smolt production up towards 1 million smolts per year. If the hatchery program is approved and constructed, these million smolts will be dumped in the river when naturally produced smolts leave Redfish Lake in early May to "swamp" predators on the journey downstream. "Swamping" has been a successful strategy in the past few years, boosting survival to the first dam (Lower Granite) from twenty to sixty percent! Sixty percent survival for the first half of their 900 mile journey to the sea is considered quite good and only so much more can be expected -- even with a quintupling of hatchery-produced smolts.

This year, adult-to-adult Sockeye ratios set a new high with 178 naturally produced adults returning from an estimated 400 plus spawners the generation before. To clarify, an adult-to-adult ratio of 1:1 is necessary for a self-sustaining population. For example, 400 naturally produced adults would need to return to spawn if 400 adults spawned in the previous generation. A population is self-sustaining if this ratio is greater than 1:1, however, the Action Agency plan does not have this goal in sight. Preventing extinction is an important goal but to suggest that this is equivalent to recovery is misleading. I agree that "Sockeye still have a long way to go toward recovery..." but I openly challenge the statement that "the proposed new hatchery should help get them there."

This year's return of 178 adults from 400 is less than half of a 1:1 ratio. Is a more than doubling of survival in the Sockeye lifecycle to be expected under current rebuilding plans? There is scant evidence that this is likely. Indeed, the state of Oregon is asking for the current Biological Opinion to be vacated, highlighting the fact that "The 2010 BiOp also fails to remedy the failure of the 2008 BiOp to provide an actual jeopardy analysis for endangered Snake River sockeye." ( It seems to me that a jeopardy analysis would have been put forward for all to see if the Action Agency plan was more than merely speculative and hopeful.

The Columbia Basin Bulletin readership is likely the most well-informed audience of salmon recovery efforts. Perhaps some Bulletin readers will have a response to my primary question, "How will the Action Agency plan bring about the recovery of Idaho's Sockeye Salmon?"

Scott Levy Host of and "RedFish BlueFish" documentarian
FEEDBACK: Snake River Sockeye Recovery Plan
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 19, 2010

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