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Ecology and salmon related articles

Sockeye are Endangered. Here's What
Idaho Fish and Game is Doing to Save Them.

by Staff
CBS 2 Idaho News, December 6, 2019

(Katherine Jones) Sockeye returning to Redfish are weighed, tagged and dna samples taken at the Eagle Fish Hatchery. EAGLE, Idaho (CBS2) -- There's a brewery named after them.

One of the most picturesque places in Idaho is also named after them.

We're talking about a fish for goodness' sake.

"Sockeye are really an iconic species in Idaho," said Idaho Fish and Game biologist John Powell. "Redfish Lake is named after sockeye who would return and spawn on the beaches."

But the sockeye needs help. And Fish and Game has a team dedicated to doing just that.


Snake River Sockeye Salmon have been endangered since 1991. They spawn in Idaho though they live most of their lives in the Pacific Ocean.

"The initial decline coincided with periods of intense commercial harvest in the 1890s," Powell said.

Powell says hydroelectric facilities and other factors have led to more and more of their routes to spawn disappearing.

"Historically sockeye returned to Wallowa Lake, Warm Lake in the South Fork Salmon River, Payette Lake and Little Payette Lake as well as the basin lakes in the Sawtooths," Powell said.

Now Redfish, Alturas and Petit Lake in Stanley are the last places for them to reproduce.


That journey from Stanley to the Pacific Ocean is roughly 900 miles. They then return a few years later.

"Our fish really are the endurance athletes of the species," Powell said. "By the time they make it back to the Sawtooth Basin nursery lakes to spawn they've traveled farther inland and climbed a higher elevation than any sockeye in the world."

It usually takes two years for the fish to mature in the ocean before they come back to Idaho.

From 1991-1998, Fish and Game tracked how many came back to Stanley.

That's when they decided to be more proactive.


With those fish, they formed a captive brood stock program. They raise fish in captivity from eggs until they are adults.

They run the program primarily in Eagle and Port Orchard, Wash.

"It was a controversial idea because it was untested," Powell said. "A lot of work early on went into figuring out how to rear these fish in captivity. We average usually over 80 percent survival from spawning up until hatch and then going from hatch to adulthood."

This year, more than 1.6 million eggs were produced. Fish and Game won't know how many return for about four years.

"From 1998 onward we've had 7,408 fish return," Powell said. "That's over a 450x return."


They've seen more fish return to Idaho but this past year just 17 came back to Stanley.

An issue was something the human eye can't even see.

Water hardness.

The facility fish are kept at has hard water whereas the lakes in the Sawtooths have soft water.

"It led to a stress response in the fish that led to mortality," Powell said.

In 2018 they implemented a new protocol where the fish go from high-hardness water to medium hardness before being released.

These fish that returned this year were from the last year before that protocol was added.

"I think there is reason to be optimistic that next year is going to be quite a bit better than this year," Powell said.

Related Pages:
Count the Fish by Government Accounting Office, GAO-02-612, Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Efforts
With Temps Rising, Corps Cools Snake River With Dworshak Water To Aid Endangered Snake River Sockeye by Staff, CBS 2 Idaho News, 7/13/18
Corps Report On 2015 Columbia/Snake Warm Water, Fish Die-Off Will Discuss Actions To Avoid Repeat by Staff, CBS 2 Idaho News, 4/1/16
Snake River Sockeye: Lowest Return Since 2007, Captive Broodstock Program Increases Spawners by Staff, CBS 2 Idaho News, 9/11/15
NOAA Fisheries Releases Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan: 25 Years Of Actions At $101 Million by Staff, CBS 2 Idaho News, 6/12/15

Related Sites:
2017 Juvenile Salmon/Steelhead Survival In Snake/Columbia: Fish Take Hit In McNary To John Day Reach by Staff, CBS 2 Idaho News, 10/6/17
With Run Downgrade, Summer Chinook Fishing Below Bonneville Dam Ends Early; Sockeye Above Forecast by Staff, CBS 2 Idaho News, 6/29/18

Sockeye are Endangered. Here's What Idaho Fish and Game is Doing to Save Them.
CBS 2 Idaho News, December 6, 2019

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