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Another Good Sockeye Return

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 10, 2009

Lower Granite Counts Build For Fish Headed To Stanley Basin

A repeat of last year's booming sockeye salmon return to the Columbia and Snake river basins has materialized with counts at hydro project fish ladders continuing to mount.

Through Wednesday 170,384 sockeye had been counted at Bonneville Dam, the first project the sockeye reach on their journey to north-central Washington and to central Idaho's high country. The total run, as measured at the mouth of the river, is expected to total 190,000.

The sockeye count at Bonneville last year was 213,607, which was the third highest on a record dating back to 1938. The count so far this year already would almost match the fifth highest count - 171,139 in 1947. The record was 237,784 in 1955.

The vast majority of the sockeye are fish bound for the Wenatchee and Okanogan river basins in Washington. Both are tributaries to the Columbia.

Some of the sockeye turn off the Columbia and swim up the Snake and Salmon rivers. They are headed for the Stanley basin. The Snake River sockeye salmon are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Since 1991 a captive broodstock program has been in place in Idaho to preserve the species' genetic stock and to raise juvenile and adult fish that can be released into the wild in hopes of reviving the beleaguered stock.

The Bonneville counts peaked at 19,936 and 10,078 on June 21 and 22 and again at 11,404 and 10,114 on June 26 and 27. But those counts have steadily declined ever since. The total Wednesday was 1,288.

Meanwhile, the counts on the lower Snake have been building in recent days. The high count at the lower Snake's Lower Granite Dam so far this year was 80 on Wednesday. The overall count through July 8 is 495. The count last year through that date was 410.

Last year 909 sockeye were counted passing Lower Granite by season's end. That was three times the previous record -- 299 in 2000 -- over the course of the broodstock program and the highest count on a record dating back to 1975. The second highest count at Lower Granite was 531 in 1976, one year after the dam was built.

IDFG officials trapped 599 sockeye last year in central Idaho's Stanley basin. Another 51 were counted coursing up the creek last year but evaded the trap.

None of this year's Snake River sockeye spawners reached their destination so far. The first was counted at Lower Granite on June 16.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Dan Baker says that it typically it takes about 30 days travel time from Lower Granite Dam to the Stanley Basin, a distance of about 400 river miles. IDFG officials installed the sockeye trap on Redfish Lake Creek Monday in preparation for the fishes' arrival

No changes are currently planned from last year's protocol, Baker said. Trapped sockeye will be transferred to Eagle Fish Hatchery near Boise where the genetics of each fish will be evaluated to determine which fish to incorporate into the Snake River Sockeye Captive Broodstock Program. The remainder of the sockeye will be returned to Redfish Lake for natural spawning. Last year about 10 percent of the anadromous returning sockeye were incorporated into the Eagle captive broodstock program.

The Snake River sockeye travel more than 900 miles once they return to freshwater, pass over eight Columbia-Snake hydro projects and climb more than 6,500 feet in elevation while journeying to central Idaho.

Historically sockeye salmon returned up the Columbia to the Snake and then Salmon rivers to five Sawtooth Valley lakes: Alturas, Pettit, Redfish, Stanley and Yellowbelly.

In the 1880s, observers reported lakes and streams in the Stanley Basin teeming with redfish, according to information posted on the IDFG's sockeye web page. There was talk of building a cannery at Redfish Lake. Returns were estimated between 25,000 and 35,000 sockeye.

Construction of the Sunbeam Dam in 1913 blocked upstream fish passage. The dam was partially destroyed in 1934. reopening the upper Salmon River, but no one tried to restore the salmon runs until recent times.

The strength of the Columbia's Wenatchee-Okanogan sockeye run has allowed managers to provide more angling opportunities because spawner escapement goals - 75,000 as counted at Bonneville and at least 65,000 upriver at the mid-Columbia's Priest Rapids Dam - are already well in hand. The upper Columbia sockeye stocks are not ESA-listed. Most are wild, naturally produced fish.

Through Monday, 95,848 sockeye had been counted passing Priest Rapids.

Central Washington's Hanford Reach was opened to sockeye retention as of July 1 from Pasco, Wash., which is above the confluence of the Columbia and Snake, up to Priest Rapids.

The opener allows a daily limit six salmon, only four of which may be adults. Up to two of that total adult bag limit may be chinook. Anglers in the reach must release all steelhead.

Anglers will also retain adult sockeye salmon in the upper Columbia River above Priest Rapids Dam:

The same daily limits apply. All coho and steelhead must be released as must any chinook with an anchor (floy) tag attached in the dorsal fin area.

Fishing for chinook and sockeye salmon opened in the Okanogan and lower Similkameen rivers:

The upper Columbia River summer chinook return as counted passing over Wells Dam is now adequate to provide necessary escapement goals, along with a harvest fishery. The stock is stable and not listed under the federal ESA.

The same bag limits apply. Coho salmon and steelhead must be released.

The Okanogan River from Zosel Dam to first Highway 97 Bridge downstream of the dam will remain closed to all fishing. Anti-snagging rule and night closure are in effect for all species.

Another Good Sockeye Return
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 10, 2009

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