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Ecology and salmon related articles

Adult Sockeye Released in Redfish Lake

Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 17, 1999

The governor of Idaho was among those on hand Wednesday to celebrate the release of 21 adult sockeye salmon into Redfish Lake -- a signal of success for a captive breeding program intended to revive a species listed in 1991 as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The release witnessed by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was the fifth into the lake from the broodstock program.

But this year's release was different in that three of the 21 fish released had made the 900-mile journey to the ocean in 1998, then returned up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers this summer to spawn. The other 18 fish released Wednesday were raised to adulthood in the Eagle Hatchery and are a mix of males and females to assure an equal sex ratio.

It is hoped the released fish will spawn naturally in the lake. If they do, their progeny would likely leave the lake in 2001 as yearlings for their trip to the Pacific Ocean.

A total of seven sockeye that had been released in 1998 as juveniles have been captured to-date in Sawtooth Hatchery traps. They include six males and one female, including the three males released into Redfish Lake. Four of the fish will be used in the Eagle Hatchery captive breeding program.

"They're all from the hatchery program," said Paul Kline, principal fishery research biologist at the Eagle Hatchery for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. No "wild" sockeye -- fish born in the lake -- had been counted as of Wednesday.

"There's still a possibility" that wild fish could return, Kline said. The sockeye spawners have in the past shown up at Redfish as late as early October. A total of 21 sockeye sightings were reported at Lower Granite Dam about 430 miles downstream, though some could have been multiple sightings of the same fish, Kline said. No wild fish returned to the lake in 1995 and 1997.

The seven adult fish that returned from the ocean were among 40,000 juveniles released into the Salmon River below the Sawtooth hatchery in May 1998 About 20,000 juveniles were released that same year at Redfish Lake Creek.

Biologist hope that the seven-fish return is a sign of things to come. They were released as yearlings or smolts and returned a year earlier than the normal life cycle or migration pattern. Such early returnees are known as jacks or jills.

Biologists are hopeful that more of the 1998 class will return to Redfish Lake late next summer after spending two years in the ocean, according to an IDFG press release.

The captive breeding program was begun in 1991, just before the species' ESA listing. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes had petitioned the species for listing in 1990. The tribes, IDFG, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the University of Idaho have all been involved in the program, which Kline estimated had absorbed $16 million in funding over the years. The program is funded through the Northwest Power Planning Council's direct fish and wildlife program.

One of Idaho's NPPC representatives, Mike Field, was on-hand for the release and also toured the Eagle hatchery facility. He and other Council members have been carefully scrutinizing the captive breeding program because of its considerable cost. The sockeye program, and one aimed at spring chinook in one of the Lemhi River's tributaries, are beginning to bear fruit.

The sockeye return is evidence that the program has "certainly, finally, shown some results," Field said.

The IDFG Redfish Lake Sockeye Salmon Captive Broodstock Program has requested $680,000 in funding for fiscal year 2000 and NMFS has requested $500,000 for Redfish Lake sockeye salmon captive broodstock rearing and research. The federal agency incubates and rears Redfish Lake sockeye captive broodstock at a Puget Sound hatchery as a way of "spreading the risk" in case some calamity strikes or of the facilities that could decimate the stock.

Both the IDFG and NMFS projects were recommended for funding by the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority and the Independent Scientific Review Panel, with the ISRP recommending multi-year funding. The NPPC is expected to make many of its program funding recommendations next week to the Bonneville Power Administration, which pays program costs as mitigation for hydropower impacts to Basin fish and wildlife.

A $438,000 funding request from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes for salmon habitat and limnological research was given a thumbs up by CBFWA's fish and wildlife managers but received a "delay funding" recommendation from ISRP until sponsors provide a risk assessment of risks associated with altering food web structure. The program intends to increase carrying capacities for sockeye at Redfish, Alturas and Pettit through fertilization.

Kline said 52,000 subyearling sockeye from the program will be released in Stanley Basin Lakes in October -- 29,000 in Redfish, 18,000 in Alturas Lake and 8,000 in Pettit Lake.

The seven fish that completed their ocean migration are the second generation progeny of two female and six male "wild" sockeye that returned to Redfish in 1993. They were taken into the broodstock program and spawned at Idaho's Eagle Hatchery. Those eggs were divided betweenEagle, the Sawtooth Hatchery and a National Marine Fisheries facility in Washington.

The 1999 returning sockeyes counted to date this year are the progeny of broodstock produced from those 1993 eggs. They spawned at the NMFS hatchery in 1996 and, because of facility limitations, happened to be reared at the Bonneville Hatchery on the Columbia River before their release in Idaho, Kline said.

An "expanded" estimate of about 3,000 wild and 30,000 hatchery fish were believed to have emerged from Redfish, Alturas and Pettit lakes from that brood class. The estimates are calculated when a percentage of the young fish are caught, counted and released as they begin their migration in mid-April to June.

Only one wild fish or progeny of a naturally spawning fish, a male, returned last year. Delisting criteria established by the National Marine Fisheries Service targets 1,000 naturally spawning fish.

Barry Espenson
Adult Sockeye Released in Redfish Lake
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 17, 1999

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