Experts: Salmon Program
by Keith Ridler
A relatively new $13.5 million hatchery intended to save Snake River sockeye salmon from extinction is instead killing thousands of fish before they ever get to the ocean, and fisheries biologists in Idaho think they know why.
The Department of Fish and Game in information released this week says water chemistry at the Springfield Hatchery in eastern Idaho is so different from that in the central region that the young fish can't adjust when released into the wild.
An estimated 150,000 sockeye used to return annually to cental Idaho, but the run began to decline in the early 1900s, leaving the species teetering on the brink of extinction in the early 1990s.
The fish have been the focus of an intense recovery program. The Springfield hatchery was completed in 2013. Salmon eggs from the Eagle hatchery and the federally operated Burley Creek Hatchery in Washington state are transported to Springfield where they are raised until they are ready for release as young fish, called smolts, into the Salmon River.
The goal has been to release 1 million smolts with the hope that up to 5,000 of them could survive the ocean odyssey to return annually as adults to Redfish Lake. This year, 162 adults returned, none from the Springfield Hatchery.
Fish and Game officials say smolts from the hatchery released in central Idaho are not surviving.
The main theory, officials say, is that water at the Springfield Hatchery has a high amount of dissolved minerals, called hard water, while the water at Redfish Lake and the Salmon River does not, making it soft water.
Young fish headed for the ocean transition from living in fresh water to salt water. Biologists say the additional stress of trying to also adjust from hard water to soft water could be killing the salmon.
Idaho officials say they plan on trying various solutions, including releasing fish directly into Redfish Lake in the fall as pre-smolts, raising more sockeye at the Sawtooth Hatchery in central Idaho, and gradually softening water as fish are transported from the Springfield Hatchery in trucks to central Idaho.
Experts: Idaho Hatchery Built to Save Salmon is Killing Them by Keith Ridler, ABC News, 11/17/17
The Public Paid $14 Million for an Idaho Hatchery -- and All its Fish Have Been Dying by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 11/17/17
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