Adult Sockeye Make Record Return
by Associated Press
STANLEY, Idaho -- A decade after the Snake River sockeye salmon was placed on the federal endangered species list, the once-nearly extinct fish is returning to its central Idaho spawning grounds in the largest numbers in more than two decades.
More than 300 adult sockeye have cleared Lower Granite Dam, the last of eight dams on the 900-mile migration from the Pacific Ocean to the Stanley Basin, and Fish and Game biologist Paul Kline said at least one-third of them should make it the rest of the way.
The last time more sockeye cleared Lower Granite was in 1977.
Kline said 40 adults had reached either Redfish Lake Creek or the Sawtooth Hatchery by Monday, and a few were still passing Lower Granite.
Although the return seems paltry compared to the thousands and even tens of thousands of other salmon species migrating back to their spawning beds in the Northwest, it stands out in contrast to the years when no sockeye or just one returned. Only 23 sockeye returned to central Idaho throughout the 1990s.
Kline heads the captive breeding program the state began after the sockeye was declared endangered a decade ago, and he was optimistic about this year's return because about 143,000 juvenile fish left Redfish, Alturas and Pettit lakes in 1998.
The only question was how many could make it back since most were the product of adults that had spent their entire lives in hatcheries.
Most of the returning adults, Kline said, will be released to spawn naturally in the three lakes that lie in the shadow of the Sawtooth Mountains. Up to 20, he said, may be incorporated into the spawning program at the Eagle Hatchery in southwestern Idaho.
The breeding program is operated cooperatively by federal, state, tribal and University of Idaho officials and financed by the Bonneville Power Administration.
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