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Idaho gets Go-Ahead for New Hatchery Aimed at
Recovering Naturally-Spawning Snake River Sockeye

by Natalie St. John
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 15, 2012

A program started 21 years ago with a principle goal of warding off extinction of the Snake River sockeye run now has -- with the go-ahead to build a new hatchery -- recovery in the "cross hairs," the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Paul Kline told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Wednesday.

The Council recommended that construction on the planned hatchery in southeast Idaho be allowed to begin this summer. It is expected to be a two-year project.

Smolt-to-adult returns from the long-running Snake River Sockeye Captive Broodstock Program in recent years "are very encouraging," said Kline, the IDFG's Columbia River policy coordinator.

The new hatchery will allow production of more smolts and hopefully result in the return of more spawners to fill available habitat and seed hatchery operations. The ultimate goal is to develop a self-sustaining population where there is none now.

A patchwork hatchery rearing system now in place has allowed in recent years the rearing of as many as about 200,000 smolts per year at central Idaho's Sawtooth Hatchery and Oxbow Hatchery, operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Over the life of the broodstock program the release of migration-ready smolts have proven to produce the highest SARs. The outplanting of younger fish and eggs in available habitat has proven less fruitful.

Construction of a Springfield Hatchery devoted exclusively to sockeye will provide the space to produce as many as one million smolts per year for release into Salmon River and Redfish, Pettit and Alturus lakes in central Idaho's high country some 900 river miles from the Pacific Ocean.

It is hoped that returns from such releases will rebuild naturally spawning populations in the three lakes

After 21 years the program is "ready to progress to recolonization," said Mark Fritsch, the NPCC's project implementation manager.

The Council's staff recommended that the Council approve the Springfield Hatchery for construction and operation, and the Council followed through this week with a recommendation that the Bonneville Power Administration fund the project. Bonneville has earmarked funds for hatchery construction in a memorandum agreement with the state of Idaho signed in 2008.

Bonneville funds the Council's fish and wildlife program as mitigation for impacts to fish and wildlife caused by the Federal Columbia River Power System, which includes eight Columbia and Snake dams that the sockeye must pass on their spawning trip up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers to central Idaho.

BPA, which markets power generated in the FCRPS, also has obligations as a federal agency to avoid actions, or provide mitigation for actions, that might jeopardize the survival of salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Construction of the Sunbeam Dam on the Salmon River in 1913 blocked upstream fish passage and for the most part choked off sockeye returns that were believed to include as many as 40,000 adult fish annually. The dam was partially destroyed in 1934 reopening the upper Salmon River, but no one immediately tried to restore the salmon runs, according to the IDFG. The source of the present sockeye in Redfish Lake is uncertain.

By the 1990s adult returns had dwindled, literally in some years, to zero.

The Redfish Lake Sockeye Captive Broodstock Program is a multi-agency and tribal effort started in May 1991. It was initiated to protect population genetic structure and to prevent the further decline of Idaho sockeye salmon. The program also produces eggs and fish to reintroduce to the habitat to increase population numbers.

The IDFG has since worked with BPA, state and federal agencies and the Shoshone-Bannock tribe to increase the number of smolts the program releases and improve rearing and migration conditions.

Between 1991 and 1998, only 16 wild sockeye salmon returned to Idaho. All of these adults were incorporated into the captive breeding program and spawned at the Eagle Fish Hatchery near Boise.

The Snake River sockeye were in 1991 listed the National Marine Fisheries Service as endangered under Endangered Species Act. Draft ESA delisting criteria for Snake River sockeye salmon includes the return of 1,000 adults to Redfish Lake, 500 adults to Pettit Lake, and 500 adults to Alturas Lake for two generations. Interim abundance targets must be met without relying on hatchery production, but on natural origin adults.

The existing program has in recent years appeared to lift returns of both hatchery-produced fish that swam to the Pacific Ocean and returned as adults to spawn, and naturally produced spawners.

The first returns from the captive broodstock program, seven fish, reappeared in 1999. Natural returns ranged from zero (in two years) to a high of 10 from 2000 to 2007.

But both hatchery and natural returns have spiked over the past four years, with highs of 178 natural and 1,144 hatchery returns in 2010 and a similar return last year.

"We've had good luck with runs lately," Kline told the Council. Recent years return totals are "something we didn't ever think we'd see, to be honest with you."

The new hatchery is expected to build on that success by providing more smolts, and hopefully more returning spawners.

A certain share of the returning fish in recent years have been trapped and spawned in the hatchery to help produce the next generation of smolts; more than half have been trapped but later released in Redfish Lake to spawn on their own. Hatchery reared adult fish have also been released into Redfish Lake to spawn.

Acquisition, construction, and operation and maintenance totaling $20,795,1641 is reserved in the MOA budgets.

The total estimated cost for the Springfield Hatchery related work from Fiscal Year 2010 through Fiscal Year 2012 was about $6,095,481 and includes the master plan, land acquisition, conceptual, preliminary and final engineering designs and construction specifications, environmental review, and permitting estimates, according to a May 31 memo to the Council prepared by Fritsch.

Construction and management of all project elements for the Springfield Hatchery is estimated at about $13,579,886, assuming that project construction would be initiated in Fiscal Year 2012 and major construction and completion in Fiscal Year 2013.

The ongoing operations and maintenance budgets for the project from Fiscal Year 2007 through Fiscal Year 2012 for the captive broodstock phase of the program averaged $1,700,929 (combined IDFG, SBT, NOAA and ODFW). The monitoring and evaluation (M&E) budgets associated with this phase from Fiscal Year 2007 through Fiscal Year 2012 averaged $971,470 (combined IDFG and SBT), the memo says.

Future cost estimates reflect only O&M at Springfield Hatchery estimated to be about $550,059 annually. Related M&E expenses are estimated to be $143,806 annually.

Construction activities, Kline said, are expected to begin in July. The IDFG has been at working planning the project, and satisfying Bonneville NPCC procedural requirements, for four years.

The Springfield Hatchery is near the town of Springfield in Bingham County, Idaho. The proposed hatchery would aim to address direction in NOAA Fisheries 2008 FCRPS biological opinion and the 2008 MOA between the state of Idaho and the FCRPS action agencies, which includes BPA and the dam operators, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. The BiOp, which outlines measures design to boost listed fish stocks, suggests boosting smolt releases.

The IDFG proposal was judged by the Council's Independent Scientific Review Panel to meet scientific criteria, though with qualifications. The ISRP asked that more information be provided regarding:

To see the ISRP's May 23 review, "Review of Snake River Sockeye Springfield Hatchery Step 2/Step 3 Review (project #200740200)," go to:

"The ISRP states that these qualification should be addressed prior to the anticipated commencement of culture activities at the Springfield Hatchery (December 2013), but the initial construction activities in July 2012 should not be delayed," Fritsch's memo said. December 2013 is the target date for egg collections to feed the new hatchery.

This Council recommendation is conditioned on IDFG addressing the ISRP recommendations.

Related Pages:
FEEDBACK: Snake River Sockeye Recovery Plan by Scott Levy, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 11/19/10

Natalie St. John
Idaho gets Go-Ahead for New Hatchery Aimed at Recovering Naturally-Spawning Snake River Sockeye
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 15, 2012

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