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Risch Frees Hatchery Sockeye

by Associated Press
Spokesman-Review, September 9, 2006

REDFISH LAKE, Idaho - After an overnight drive from Seattle, 475 hatchery-raised sockeye salmon were dumped into a picturesque Idaho mountain lake on Friday in hopes their offspring will eventually swim back to the Pacific - and someday fancy a return visit to Idaho.

Gov. Jim Risch helped dump big blue tubs of adult sockeye into Redfish Lake in the Idaho Sawtooths as part of the state's effort to help the endangered fish recover.

Salmon advocates on hand said most of the roughly 10,000 young fish that will result from these adults during spawning in another month will die in 2008 in the turbines of Snake River dams as they journey to the ocean. Some advocates want to breach dams in neighboring Washington state to help the fish.

Risch, an opponent of dam breaching, was more optimistic, calling the Redfish Lake sockeye release one of the hopes for the future of a species that used to return here in numbers as high as 35,000.

Of the hundreds of adult sockeye planted in past years at Redfish, only three have returned this year.

Friday's adult release is one of several programs pursued by state Fish and Game biologists, as well as biologists at federal agencies including the National Marine Fisheries Service, to boost sockeye numbers in the central Idaho Rockies. Adult sockeye, which normally turn red when they approach their October spawning season, have been planted in Redfish Lake since 1994, state fisheries officials said.

"We've built the natural emigrant group ... from just a few hundred that we saw coming out of the lake in the early 1990s to between 5,000 and 10,000," said Paul Kline, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's principal fisheries research biologist.

"It's certainly demonstrating that the lake is doing its job."

The lake derives its name from the days when its waters were red with the brightly colored spawning salmon.

Bert Bowler, of the salmon conservation group Idaho Rivers United said the only way to ensure the sockeye come back to Redfish is to remove four Lower Snake River dams that since the mid-1970s have killed thousands of young fish as they migrate to the ocean.

Risch countered that not enough is known about the reasons for the sockeye decline.

The progeny of the sockeye released Friday are due to return to Idaho in 2010.

Associated Press
Risch Frees Hatchery Sockeye
Spokesman-Review, September 9, 2006

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