Hatcheries to Play Key Role Rebuilding
by Steve Ernst
"... on the working assumption that fostering relatively high numbers of returns from hatchery releases will lead to increasing
numbers of naturally produced adult returns in the future, ultimately leading to natural production at self-sustaining levels,"
Hatchery releases will continue to be the main tool in rebuilding natural-producing adult returns of Snake River sockeye, according to NOAA Fisheries' 431-page Snake River recovery plan, released June 8.
The plan says it will likely take 50 to 100 years to recover Snake River sockeye runs, and those runs will be considered "recovered" when an average of 2,500 natural-origin spawners return annually to the lakes of Idaho's Sawtooth Valley.
The recovery plan calls for building an average population of 1,000 naturally spawning sockeye over 10 years in both Redfish and Alturas lakes, along with a population of 500 in Petit Lake. "Over time," the plan says, "reintroductions into Stanley Lake and Yellowbelly Lake will be considered."
"The strategy for Redfish Lake is based on the working assumption that fostering relatively high numbers of returns from hatchery releases will lead to increasing numbers of naturally produced adult returns in the future, ultimately leading to natural production at self-sustaining levels," the plan says.
A captive broodstock program has successfully prevented the population's extinction in the near term and preserved its genetic lineage, the plan says. "That program will now transition to increase hatchery releases to support sufficient natural-origin anadromous Sockeye Salmon returns. Next, it will shore up adaptation to reestablish a natural self-sustaining anadromous Sockeye Salmon population."
The National Marine Fisheries Service will focus on the first five years of implementation and in five-year intervals thereafter, with the understanding that before the end of each five-year implementation period, specific actions and costs will be estimated for subsequent years.
Estimated total cost for implementation during the initial five-year period, FY 2014 to FY 2018, is approximately $20 million, the plan says. Total estimated cost of recovery actions for the ESA-listed Snake River sockeye salmon evolutionarily significant unit over the next 25 years is projected at about $101 million.
The supplementation strategy will rely heavily on a new BPA-funded sockeye hatchery at Springfield, Idaho. The $13.5-million facility opened last year and is designed to produce 1 million sockeye smolts annually, boosting annual releases fivefold.
Snake River sockeye were placed on the endangered list in 1991 after all the runs, except Redfish Lake, were gone. The population at Redfish had dwindled to fewer than 10 fish per year, the recovery plan says.
But the run has started to rebound, which NOAA attributed to hatchery program success.
Between 1999 and 2007, more than 355 adults returned from the ocean from captive brood releases--almost 20 times the number of wild fish that returned in the 1990s. However, that total is skewed by unusually large returns in 2000. Returns dropped from 2003 through 2007, but began building in 2008, NMFS said.
In 2008, 646 (including 140 natural-origin fish) returned to the Sawtooth Valley. The next year, 832 (including 86 natural-origin fish) fish returned, followed by 1,355 in 2010, including 178 natural-origin fish.
The total for 2011 was 1,117 (including 145 natural-origin fish), with 257 in 2012 (including 52 natural-origin fish), 272 in 2013 (including 79 natural-origin fish) and 1,579 in 2014 (including 453 natural-origin fish).
Two-thirds of the fish were captured at the Redfish Lake Creek weir and the remaining fish were captured at the Sawtooth Hatchery weir on the mainstem Salmon River upstream of the Redfish Lake Creek confluence. Sockeye salmon returns to Alturas Lake ranged from one fish in 2002 to 14 fish in 2010. No fish returned to Alturas Lake in 2012, 2013 or 2014, according to the plan.
"However, while the program has successfully prevented extinction and preserved the genetic lineage of Redfish Lake Sockeye Salmon, the species remains at risk of extinction. Snake River Sockeye Salmon cannot be said to be recovered until it is made up of natural-origin fish spawning in the wild and surviving their two-way journey in far greater numbers," the plan says.
Count the Fish, 1977-2014, Salmon Recovery Effortsby GAO
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