Biologists Optimistic about Sockeye Salmonby Steve Liebenthal
watch KTVB News, July 26, 2004
EAGLE -- Idaho sockeye salmon were listed as endangered around a decade ago when only one returned to Idaho.
That’s when Idaho managers started an emergency program to try to keep the species alive.
The people who run that program have a glimmer of hope today about the future.
"The recovery potential for sockeye is still there," said biologist Paul Klein.
There is a quiet celebration going on at the Eagle fish hatchery, where over the weekend the first sockeye salmon of the year returned to a trap near Stanley.
"There isn't a day that goes by that we don't talk about the next fish over Lower Granite," Klein said.
The dam is considered the final hurdle for sockeye salmon returning to Idaho. It's one of four dams that fish advocates blame for the decline of Idaho salmon.
No existing Idaho species has declined more dramatically than sockeye salmon, but this year 108 sockeye have gone over Lower Granite Dam. That’s a far cry from the tens of thousands that once returned to Idaho, but it is the second largest sockeye return in decades.
The fish trapped Sunday is almost certainly a product of the captive breeding program in Eagle, but it had no hatchery marking, meaning it may have been born naturally in Redfish Lake.
"The fish that are born in the lake are the real thing. They have been through the gamut of environmental conditions that may be a better representative of what it takes to survive this distance from the ocean," Klein said.
Biologists say it is proof the program is working.
“It has tremendous implications in that it demonstrates that the program is successful in returning fish," said biologist Dan Baker.
And Idaho’s pristine habitat is intact.
"It confirms that the habitat in Idaho is not broken," Klein said.
Klein believes the species, now on the brink of extinction, could recover if major changes were made in the Snake and Columbia rivers where eight dams have radically changed the natural migration corridor.
“Potential is still there assuming that those hurdles between Idaho and the ocean are addressed," Klein said.
Biologists say Bonneville Power’s plan to spill less water over dams on the Columbia River this summer could have a negative impact on Idaho sockeye salmon that are now swimming toward the Pacific Ocean.
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