Snake River Fall Chinook Redd Count Upby Laura Berg
NW Fishletter, March 7, 2016
Naturally spawning fall Chinook made a record 9,345 redds, or gravel nests, last year in the Snake River basin between Lower Granite and Hells Canyon dams, according to counts made by the Nez Perce Tribe.
"This new record coincides with the third highest adult Snake River fall Chinook return (59,300) since the four lower Snake River dams were completed in 1975," according to a Feb. 4 news release from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC).
The previous record for Snake River fall Chinook redds was set in 2014, when 6,714 were counted.
"It's great to see fish coming back to our rivers," said Lorri Bodi, BPA vice president of Environment, Fish and Wildlife.
"BPA has funded the Nez Perce tribal hatchery program since its inception and the tribe has been very successful in bringing back more and more Snake River fall Chinook that are spawning in the wild. It's clear the approach of restoring critical fish habitat, improving dam passage and using hatchery supplementation where appropriate is working for ESA-listed fish," she told NW Fishletter.
Idaho Power also funds the Snake River fall Chinook program.
"The success of the Snake River fall Chinook program is the direct result of efforts to supplement existing Snake River fall Chinook with biologically appropriate hatchery-reared fish," the CRITFC blog said.
The NOAA Fisheries Snake River ESA Recovery Plan says that at the end of the 19th century, annual fall Chinook returns to the Snake River were about 500,000 adult fish and were widely distributed throughout the basin. CRITFC said that the half-million fall Chinook returnee numbers continued into the 1930s.
The Snake River fall Chinook migration extends from the Columbia River mouth to Shoshone Falls on the upper Snake in southern Idaho, about 900 miles.
Construction of dams on the Snake River eliminated or severely degraded 530 miles, or 80 percent, of the basin's historical habitat.
"The most productive of that habitat was upriver from the site of Hells Canyon Dam, which has no fish passage," the inter-tribal agency said.
By the 1990s Snake River fall Chinook fell to only 78 wild adults observed at Lower Granite Dam.
After listing the Snake River fall Chinook as threatened under the ESA in 1992, NOAA Fisheries proposed measures that endangered the tribal fall fishery--at that time, the tribes' last remaining commercial fishery.
When the tribes sued, the CRITFC blog said, "U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Marsh warned the parties that he would hear the case, but not everyone would like the outcome. The tribes were risking rights guaranteed in their treaties signed in 1855 and the federal government was risking the Endangered Species Act. Taking his warning to heart, the parties began negotiating."
The negotiations brought about a 1995 agreement among the Nez Perce and Umatilla tribes; Washington, Oregon and Idaho's fish departments; and two federal fish agencies. Their plan was to restore fall Chinook salmon above Lower Granite Dam.
One result of that agreement was authorization of a Nez Perce hatchery to supplement wild Chinook populations with hatchery-reared fish of the same stock, according to CRITFC.
"Now, 21 years after the program began, the Nez Perce Tribe annually releases 450,000 yearling fall Chinook and 2.8 million sub-yearling fall Chinook from tribal facilities," the blog said.
"Together with the other parties and partners, a total of 5 million fish are put back into the system each year," CRITFC reported. Many of the returning adults spawn naturally and "are key to increasing natural-origin returns," it said.
"The continued success of the Snake River fall Chinook returns over the past five years strengthens the argument for carefully managed hatcheries as a tool in salmon recovery," said Anthony Johnson, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.
"This type of program should be replicated throughout the Columbia River Basin, not limited," said CRITFC's Executive Director Paul Lumley.
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