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Ecology and salmon related articles

Sockeye Run One of Best in Decades

by Jason Kauffman
Idaho Mountain Express, July 27, 2008

Hundreds of rare fish headed toward Sawtooth Valley

(Mark Harrison/Seattle Times) Sockeye salmon pass through the Ballard Locks. Sockeye runs have hit historic post-dam-construction highs this summer in the Columbia and Snake rivers As many as 700 rare sockeye salmon could be headed for the Redfish Lake area this summer, fisheries biologists with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game report.

Such a return would be a remarkable improvement above mostly dismal single-digit or non-existent sockeye returns to the scenic Idaho lake during the past several decades, Fish and Game mainstem migration specialist Russ Kiefer said today. As of Wednesday, July 23, a total of 814 adult sockeye had passed by the Lower Granite Dam, the last barrier on the lower Snake Riverthat anadromous fish must pass before entering Idaho, he said.

One of the next strongest runs of sockeye into Idaho in recent decades was in 2000, when a total of 299 of the "red fish" were counted at the Lower Granite Dam, Kiefer said.

The major question mark remaining is how many of the fish counted at the dam will actually return to the Salmon River and Sawtooth Valley near Stanley, which is traditionally where Snake River sockeye are destined to. Return rates on Snake River sockeye in recent years have varied quite significantly, with many of the fish accidentally veering off into other river drainages like north-central Idaho's Lochsa River and northeast Oregon's Imnaha River, Kiefer said.

He said fisheries biologists believe river conditions have a lot to do with the return rate of Idaho sockeye. Colder, high flows generally favor higher returns to the Redfish Lake area, so this summer might see higher returns because of the cool, wet spring the region enjoyed, he said.

Kiefer said up to 50 to 90 percent of the sockeye "should be able to make it" this summer. That could translate into as many as 700 sockeye reaching the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery on the upper Salmon River near Redfish Lake, he said.

The high returns should also aid the hatchery's captive sockeye brood stock program and also allow fisheries biologists to release more adult sockeye into Redfish, Pettit and Alturas lakes, in the shadow of the Sawtooth Mountains, to spawn naturally, Kiefer said.

So, why the apparent excellent returns this summer? Kiefer said it's likely due to good smolt production four years ago, good out-migration conditions in the rivers and excellent ocean conditions.

"It's clearly a combination," he said.

Jason Kauffman
Sockeye Run One of Best in Decades
Idaho Mountain Express, July 27, 2008

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