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Ecology and salmon related articles

Let the Spawning Begin

by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune - August 13, 1999

One male sockeye returns to Redfish Lake
now wait begins for any more who make it

SANDPOINT -- A sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake in the Stanley Basin Thursday, the first of this year.

The news was announced at the Idaho Fish and Game Commission meeting in Sandpoint and followed by a smattering of applause.

The return marks the first sockeye to return to Idaho that is the product of a captive brood stock.

"Now that we've got one it probably means we'll get several," said Virgil Moore, chief of the department's fisheries bureau.

Moore added that 22 sockeye have made it past Lower Granite Dam this year. That number is outstanding, according to department fisheries biologists who expected a poor return this year due to the small number of fish that returned in the past.

The state has seen only 17 Snake River sockeye return to the Stanley Basin since 1991.

The fish that turn crimson prior to spawning were once so plentiful they turned the waters of the large mountain lakes in the basin red, and gave Redfish Lake its name. They were listed as endangered in 1991 and last year just one fish successfully made the 900-mile journey from the ocean to the lake.

The fish that was trapped at the Sawtooth Hatchery Thursday is a 3-year-old male with clipped adipose and left ventral fins. The fish has a coded wire tag that indicates it's the progeny of four males and three females that returned to Idaho in 1993.

Those fish were spawned and their offspring reared in hatcheries for their entire life cycle. The offspring of those fish -- some 40,000 smolts -- were released last year.

At least 19 of the 22 sockeye counted at Lower Granite Dam this year also came from fish released in 1998. Oddly, those fish have spent just one year in the ocean.

Sockeye generally spend two years at sea. So fisheries managers are not sure the females will be able to produce eggs should any return.

"This is really bizarre to see jacks (fish that spend one year in the ocean) in the first place," said Moore.

He said it will take some time, perhaps a month, to determine if the fish are able to spawn. Moore expects about a dozen of the 22 to make it to the Stanley Basin.

If they are able to produce eggs, Moore said, there is a chance they will be allowed to spawn in the wild.

"By and large we intend to let them spawn naturally."

That decision will depend on how many fish return, and negotiations between the department and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, which has a say in sockeye management.

Moore told commissioners the return of chinook salmon to the Snake River system has been poor, as expected.

However, the return of chinook jacks is about 3 times the 10- year average. That indicates a good chinook return next year and possibly a sport harvest opportunity on hatchery chinook in the Clearwater and Little Salmon rivers.

This year, 3,300 spring chinook were counted at Lower Granite Dam. The 10-year average is 13,100 fish. Hatchery managers expect to reach just 40 percent of the spawning goals.

Summer chinook have performed a bit better, with 3,200 passing over Lower Granite Dam. The 10-year average is 4,200. Jack returns of summer chinook are also up about 3 times.

The Nez Perce Tribe did have two short seasons on chinook in the Clearwater, Little Salmon and Rapid rivers. Tribal fisherman took 133 chinook, most of them from Rapid River, of which 131 were jacks.

The Shoshone-Bannock tribe has taken 44 chinook from the South Fork of the Salmon River. About 800 hatchery jacks have been given to the tribes for consumptive and ceremonial use.

Moore said negotiations between the state and the Nez Perce Tribe are ongoing over the tribe's offer to provide adult chinook from another source for spawning needs at Rapid River Hatchery.

Eric Barker
Let the Spawning Begin
Lewiston Tribune - August 13, 1999

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