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Redfish Lake Kokanee get Endangered Status

by Dan Egan

Idaho Mountain Express - March 31, 1993

More Stanley Basin fish have been added to the federal government's endangered species list, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Some Redfish Lake kokanee, a landlocked cousin to the endangered Snake River sockeye, have been given the same status as the sockeye because they carry a similar genetic make-up.

The decision was made by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency responsible for bringing the endangered sockeye back from the brink of extinction, according to IDFG officials.

"NMFS believes the original listing of the sockeye (as endangered) was broad enough to include this group," said Sharon Kiefer, a fisheries biologist with the IDFG in Boise.

Including some kokanee under the endangered species act is sure to mean changes in the way business is done on Redfish Lake.

In response to the NMFS decision, IDFG officials have proposed prohibiting kokanee fishing on Redfish Lake this year.

A final decision on the matter will be made at the IDFG commission's April 16 meeting in Boise, but will only be a recommendation to NMFS.

NMFS has the final say in any decision made concerning the endangered salmon.

Not all kokanee are believed to be so closely tied to the sockeye, but it's impossible to tell which are and which aren't without conducting extensive experiments on individual fish. Therefore, it is impossible to tell which kokanee-appearing fish is protected as endangered and which is just a kokanee.

The government intends to err on the conservative side.

"As far as they (NMFS) are concerned, it (the sockeye-related kokanee) is just like a sockeye," said Jim Lukens, Regional Fisheries Manager for the IDFG in Salmon. "Because you can't differentiate between them, we have to close the entire lake to kokanee fishing."

IDFG intends to recommend that trout fishing continue on the lake, as the methods for catching the two species vary greatly.

Kiefer said the chances of mistakenly catching a kokanee while fishing for trout "are extremely low."

Lukens stressed that only Redfish Lake kokanee are affected by the decision.

Kokanee are like sockeye in nearly every respect, except true kokanee, a smaller fish, never leave Redfish Lake. Sockeye are born in the lake but live most their adult life in the Pacific Ocean, and return to the lake to spawn and die.

It was only this year that officials found a population believed to be migrating kokanee -- which in NMFS' eyes makes them sockeye.

This year, 818 kokanee were trapped migrating out of Redfish Lake. They are being raised in a captive breeding program separately from the offspring of the sockeye caught migrating back to Redfish Lake during the past two years.

A meeting to discuss the possible ramifications of the NMFS decision to add another group of fish to the endangered list has been scheduled for Thursday, April 8 in Stanley at the Stanley Community Center.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. and will be hosted by the IDFG and the Sawtooth Wildlife Council, an environmental group.

Associated Press
Redfish Lake Kokanee get Endangered Status
Idaho Mountain Express - March 31, 1993

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