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Sockeye Return Best in Years

by Associated Press
The Idaho Statesman, August 10, 2000

Hatchery fish far outnumber wild spawners

Tom Shanahan photo.  Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb helped release the 18 hatchery-raised fish that returned to Redfish Lake last year. More than 100 sockeye have made it back so far this summer. STANLEY -- More than 100 sockeye salmon have returned to their ancestral breeding grounds in the Sawtooth Valley, making this year's return the best in 10 years.

Seven of the fish came back to the area last year, and only 23 returned throughout the 1990s. As of Sunday, 125 sockeye salmon were in the Sawtooth Valley.

Dave Cannamela, fisheries biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said that, of the 125 returning sockeye, seven most likely came from natural production. The remaining 118 fish were hatchery-raised.

"We're glad to see more fish, but the downside of that is that we're not seeing a substantial gain in the wild fish numbers," Cannamela said. "We need lots of years of improved conditions, and we cannot expect Mother Nature to improve conditions with dams in place."

Fish and Game said in a press release that the fish returning this year are from a 1998 release of about 143,000 sockeye salmon smolts.

Agency biologist Paul Kline said most of the returning adult sockeye will spawn naturally in Redfish, Alturas and Pettit lakes in the Sawtooth Valley. Between 10 and 20 of the fish may be kept and incorporated into the spawning program at the Eagle Hatchery near Boise.

Sockeye are not the only fish thriving this summer. Cannamela said chinook salmon returns are up over previous years, as well.

This summer, 6,688 chinook crossed Lower Granite Dam, the last of eight dams the fish must circumvent before making their way to breeding grounds on the upper Salmon River. Last year, by comparison, 4,181 crossed the dam. Though sockeye salmon spawn in lakes like Redfish Lake, chinook spawn in rivers and creeks like Bear Valley Creek.

Despite the improved numbers, however, Salmon River floating restrictions were to be implemented on Thursday to help spawning chinook successfully reproduce.

Sawtooth National Recreation Area officials want chinook salmon making the 900-mile return trip to have every possible chance at sustaining the species. That means the fish must be able to spawn unimpeded by rafts, kayaks, wading fishermen or tourists.

Associated Press
Sockeye Return Best in Years
The Idaho Statesman, August 10, 2000

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