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Sockeye Makes Its Way Back to Sawtooth Valley

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, July 25, 2011

Sockeye salmon The very first sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Hatchery last week and it looks like a lot more are on their way.

So far 1,292 sockeye have cleared the last dam, Lower Granite in Washington. It continues a success story that challenges most of the arguments from all sides of the Columbia salmon debate.

Idaho Fish and Game biologists expect more than 1,000 sockeye to make the nearly 900-mile trip from the Pacific to up to the Sawtooth Valley. Only through the captive breeding program run out of the Eagle Hatchery has this and recent generations of sockeye been able to continue a migration that began 10,000 years ago.

These fish are proof that the Endangered Species Act works at some level. If the Shoshone-Bannock had not petitioned the federal government to protect sockeye as an endangered species in 1990, and had they not been listed, they would be gone.

"Lonesome Larry" was unique among sockeye in 1992 as the only one worldwide that climbed more than 6,500 feet in elevation to reach his spawning destination, and he represented the southern most-North American sockeye population. Now there are thousands more.

And they aren't just coming back to Redfish. Sockeye are spawning in both Petit and Alturas now have spawning sockeyes despite an active campaign in the 1960s by fisheries officials to eradicate them. We might see them again in Stanley and Yellow Belly lakes, who knows?

While a big success, the returns are still mostly dependent on the hatchery-raised fish. Take away the hatchery and they go back to Lonesome Larry levels. But there are few people who thought in 1990 that the sockeye would still be swimming in Idaho.

Rocky Barker
Sockeye Makes Its Way Back to Sawtooth Valley
Idaho Statesman, July 25, 2011

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