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Chinook Survey Shows Record Spawning Nest Count

by Associated Press
Capital Press - January 4, 2002

BOISE (AP) -- Idaho Power Co. biologists report the number of spawning nests that fall chinook scoop out of the Snake River gravel to fertilize their eggs is at the highest levels since the utility's survey began in 1991.

The annual survey located 1,298 nests, or redds, in the drainage taking in the Snake, Grande Ronde, Imnaha, Salmon, Potlatch and Clearwater rivers. It is conducted by Idaho Power, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The largest number of redds - 707 - was found in the Snake. Last year, 346 were counted there.

"It may be that the single largest contributing factor to this year's record cound was good water a couple of years ago," Idaho Power biologist Phil Groves said Wednesday.

Redds visible from the air are counted using a helicopter. Those in deeper water are checked with underwater video equipment.

The Pacific Ocean's prime conditions were also a factor, he said. Weather patterns such as El Nino affect how much food upwells to feed the fish as they migrate off the coast.

Idaho Power in 1991 developed a flow program from its Hells Canyon dams to protect the redds as the young fish develop.

"While it's difficult to quantify, Idaho Power Co.'s protective flow mitigation program also has been a benefit for these fish," Groves said. "Not only have we provided stable spawning flows, thereby eliminating potential redd abandonment and associated losses, but we also have protected all of the embryos in the Snake River from desiccation," or drying out.

About 5,700 fall chinook made it over Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River near Lewiston to spawn this year, Groves said.

A boost for chinook numbers is the Nez Perce Tribe's augmentation program, Groves said. Adults which would have spawned naturally are gathered at Lower Granite Dam and their progeny are released into the Snake and Clearwater rivers.

Washington state fisheries biologists say next year's spring chinook salmn run will pale in comparison with the 2001 run, but there still should be enough fish for sport seasons.

If the run lives up to preliminary predictions, it will be the second-largest since 1938. Nearly 334,000 upriver spring chinook are expected to return to the mouth of Columbia River.

But Idaho officials said they are only beginning to try and forecast how that will translate to the number of salmon clearing Lower Granite into the state, said Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fish chief for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

The region-wide drought made this year's migration through the Columbia River Basin deadly for young salmon and steelhead.

The impact of the survival when those fish return as adults to spawn in two to four years is unknown. More than half the migrating fish were trucked or barged around federal dams.

Anglers spend $46.2 million dollars fishing for the 140,860 hatchery chinook salmon which returned to Idaho this year.

Associated Press
Chinook Survey Shows Record Spawning Nest Count
Capital Press - January 4, 2002

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