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Sockeye Return to Central Idaho

by Associated Press
Casper Star-Tribune, September 2, 2004

TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- Twenty-two Snake River sockeye salmon have made it back to their central Idaho spawning grounds so far this year.

That may seem small, considering 75,000 of the young, endangered fish were sent downriver in 2002. But it's still much better than last year, when just three hearty fish survived their 1,800-mile, round-trip journey to the ocean.

Another 88 have crossed Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in Washington this year -- the last in the hurdle of eight dams the fish must pass on their return trip to the Salmon River to spawn in the lakes of the Sawtooth Valley.

"Once they have reached Lower Granite Dam they have come 400 miles from the ocean. Stanley is about 900 miles from the ocean -- there is still 500 miles of something that could get in the way," said Bill Horton, salmon coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

The department operates a $800,000 cooperative sockeye program funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets hydropower from the federal dams.

Long-term, the program aims to advance beyond its preservation focus to bolster numbers to 2,000 returning sockeye.

The Snake River sockeye is among 13 salmon and steelhead species in the Columbia River Basin protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The greatest contributor to the fish deaths is the Columbia and Snake River dam system, Horton said. Federal officials on Tuesday announced that the dams pose no jeopardy to the fish and while the structures will be fine-tuned for easier passage, the four lower Snake dams will not be breached as salmon advocates want to save the runs.

Sockeye apparently are less fit to travel through the reservoirs than other migrating salmon species.

"There is just little that we do know about sockeyes, because we have so few of them to work with and study," he said.

Other causes of mortality include low water levels in the rivers, high temperatures, predators, and for the past couple of years, possibly a parasite, said Catherine Willard, a Fish and Game Department fisheries biologist.

Researchers this year will be evaluating the impact of parasites once the fish pass Lower Granite on their way back to the Sawtooth Valley, she said.

Associated Press
Sockeye Return to Central Idaho
Casper Star-Tribune, September 2, 2004

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