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More Sockeye Return to the Sawtooth Valley

by Jason Kauffman
Idaho Mountain Express, August 8, 2008

A total of 158 'red fish' have migrated back to central Idaho

(Mark Harrison/Seattle Times) Sockeye salmon pass through the Ballard Locks. Sockeye runs have hit historic post-dam-construction highs this summer in the Columbia and Snake rivers The red fish just keep coming.

A total of 158 sockeye salmon have arrived so far at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery along the upper Salmon River, fisheries officials reported today. The total sockeye numbers are fast approaching the next highest return in recent decades, when 257 of the famous red fish made their way back to the Sawtooth Valley in 2000. The 2000 returns are the highest since biologists started tracking the Sawtooth Valley sockeye numbers in 1985.

In recent years, returns of sockeye have varied wildly in the upper Salmon River. Anadromous fish must cross eight major dams on the Columbia River and lower Snake River before they reach Idaho. The last of these barriers, the Lower Ganite Dam on the lower Snake, is where sockeye are counted as a basis for estimating how many of the fish will return to the upper Salmon River.

Hundreds of miles downriver from the Sawtooth Valley on Friday, a total of 861 adult sockeye salmon had passed by the Lower Granite Dam, the last barrier on the lower Snake River in southeast Washington that anadromous fish must pass before entering Idaho. Depending on how many of these fish return to the Sawtooth Valley, the destination for all Snake River sockeye, fisheries biologists with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game believe the Sawtooth hatchery could see up to 400 to 700 fish when the run is complete.

Such a run this summer would be a remarkable improvement above mostly dismal single-digit or nonexistent sockeye returns to the scenic Idaho lake during the past several decades. In all, just 352 wild and hatchery-origin sockeye have migrated back to the Redfish Lake area since 1985, Fish and Game information indicates.

Fisheries biologists expect the 2008 Sawtooth Valley sockeye run to peak over the next week. They've been previously reported as saying that up to 40 sockeye could return to the Redfish Lake area during the run's peak. The run is expected to begin tapering off within a week or so.

Fisheries biologists say this year's surprisingly good numbers of returning sockeye is likely due to good smolt production four years ago, good out-migration conditions in the rivers and excellent ocean conditions. The run coming up the Snake River into Idaho is just a fraction of a much larger run that's headed up the Columbia River system that in recent counts have numbered just under 250,000 fish.

Related Pages:
F&G Management Plans Helping in the Sockeye Recovery by Cal Groen, Idaho Statesman, 8/12/8
Don't Equate Strong Sockeye Return with Recovery by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 8/10/8

Jason Kauffman
More Sockeye Return to the Sawtooth Valley
Idaho Mountain Express, August 8, 2008

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