This Fish Story has a Happy Ending
by Alyson Outen
KTVB, September 3, 2008
STANLEY -- It's a fish story of historic proportions.
In this case, it's not the size of the fish, but the amount of sockeye salmon returning to the lake which bears its name.
Redfish Lake has been a bit of a misnomer for the past couple of decades, but after years of captive breeding the fish are finally coming home.
"We're going to be just as happy to see the last one as we were the first one," said Otter.
So far this year, 557 sockeye salmon successfully made the return journey to Stanley.
Their route back to Redfish starts in the Pacific Ocean, spans 900 miles and climbs 6,500 feet -- traveling farther and climbing higher than any other sockeye.
Along that path are eight dams, which fish advocates blame for the shocking decline in sockeye. In the 1990s, a total of just 16 fish returned -- landing them on the Endangered Species list.
"We know the federal hydroelectric facilities have done damage to salmon resources of this region, but we believe we can restore them and this is one of the ways to do that," said Steve Wright, BPA Administrator.
A decade-long captive breeding program is credited with saving the salmon.
"We didn't really know whether this would work or not, to tell you the truth. You're down to practically nothing and the question is, are you going to be able to restore them with basically, just some eggs," said Wright.
The answer, appears to be yes. Fish and Game says this year's higher numbers, in part, relate to recent good water years, which make the treacherous trip more survivable for smolt.
Gov. Butch Otter, with Fish and Game cameras in tow, helped spotlight the accomplishment this week at Redfish Lake, addressing so many who helped make it happen.
"It is a big day for Idaho, it's a big day for the fish and it's a big day for us to look back on and just say, you know if you just work together instead of fight you can really get something done," said Otter. "It's the culmination of a great effort and partnership, collaboration by state, federal, tribal governments and all the agencies."
"We started with practically nothing. Ten years ago we had basically no sockeye coming back up here. To have 500 fish make it back, it's an amazing accomplishment," said Wright.
The last big return to Redfish Lake happened in 1955 when 4,300 sockeye salmon jumped back in the pond.
The worst years were undeniably in the 1990s when, on some years, no fish returned.
With these numbers on the rise this year, don't get excited about catching these guys -- it is highly illegal to hook an endangered sockeye salmon.
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