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Ecology and salmon related articles

Sockeye Aren't Ready to Give Up Yet

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, June 30(?), 2000

Ten of the rare fish make it past Lower Granite Dam so far

Ten of Idaho's most endangered salmon have made it past Lower Granite Dam in Washington, setting up what is likely to be the best return in years.

Sockeye salmon, listed as endangered in 1991, have trickled into the state over the last decade with no fish returning to their home waters in the Stanley Basin some years and just a handful in others. In total, just 23 of the crimson fish have successfully negotiated the 900-mile journey since 1990.

That is why this year's good start has fishery biologists, who are struggling to save sockeye, thrilled.

"We are all excited around the office," said Paul Kline, a biologist at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Eagle Fish Hatchery.

Kline heads a program to save sockeye through captive breeding. Last year the program claimed a victory when seven fish returned to Redfish Lake at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Biologists had not expected any sockeye to return in 1999 because so few had left the lake as juveniles in 1997. However, all of last year's returning adults turned out to be jacks-- fish that spend just one year in the ocean instead of the normal two.

Kline is optimistic about this year's return because some 143,000 juvenile fish left Redfish, Alturas and Pettit lakes in 1998. He says it's difficult to estimate how many of those fish will return because most are the product of adults that have spent their entire lives in fish hatcheries. But if the hatchery sockeye live up to return rates of .7 percent recorded in recent years, as many as 100 could make it back to spawn.

"If we rely on recent history using wild smolt to adult return data, it's possible we could see that kind of number," he said.

It's likely sockeye benefited from the same favorable high runoff conditions during their migration to the ocean as smolts as well as a cooler, more productive ocean that has been a boon to spring chinook runs. But Kline cautioned that even a return rate of .7 percent or 100 fish would still leave the sockeye in danger of extinction.

Biologists say consistent return rates of 2 to 6 percent are needed to recover threatened and endangered runs of Snake River salmon and steelhead.

Most of the fish that do make it back will be allowed to spawn naturally in the three lakes. A few may be integrated into the captive brood stock of 300 fish. Some of the eggs from the brood stock are planted in the lakes. Others are raised in hatcheries and released in the lakes as juveniles.

Through Wednesday, 29 adult sockeye had passed Ice Harbor Dam, the first dam on the Snake River. Biologists are expecting a run of 150,000 sockeye to enter the Columbia River this year. Most of those fish will head for lakes in Washington.

The run is so strong a short commercial and sport fishing season will be allowed in Oregon and Washington. Fisheries managers expect commercial anglers to take about 1,500 fish and sport anglers a few hundred fish.

Kline says the season is not likely to significantly affect endangered Snake River sockeye.

Eric Barker
Sockeye Aren't Ready to Give Up Yet
Lewiston Tribune, June 30(?), 2000

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