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Redfish Sockeye Released to Spawn

Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 8, 2000

A relative bumper crop of returned Stanley Basin sockeye salmon were set free this week to spawn on their own, cheered by state, tribal and federal officials gathered to witness the fruits of an eight-year-old captive broodstock program aimed at reviving the endangered fish population.

With Idaho experiencing the best returns of sockeye salmon in more than two decades, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne Wednesday helped to continue the cycle by releasing 36 of the endangered fish into Redfish Lake near Stanley.

In all, 194 sockeye were released this week. The fish migrated out of the basin two years ago to the ocean, then made the upriver return trip this summer through about 900 miles of the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers. Broodstock program participants planned to release 113 fish into Redfish, 53 into Alturas Lake and 28 into Pettit Lake.

The release is only the second for the program. Last year seven 3-year-olds from the same 1996 brood year returned with three released into Redfish Lake and four retained to bolster the program's genetic stock.

It is expected that 43 of the returning adults will be incorporated in this year's captive broodstock program spawning design at Eagle Hatchery.

Additionally, 61 pre-spawn adults reared in the hatchery program were released -- 36 into Redfish and 25 into Alturas, according to Paul Kline, Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologist.

A total of 237 4-year-old sockeye made the return to the basin this year. The run, as counted at Lower Granite Dam nearly 450 miles downstream, is the largest since 1977. All are believed products of the captive broodstock program, which is co-managed by the IDFG and Shoshone-Bannock Tribes with research assistance from the National Marine Fisheries Service and University of Idaho.

The first sockeye arrive July 22. The run has long since peaked with another fish swimming in "every other day or so," Kline said. Returning fish are being trapped at two locations - Redfish Lake Creek and the Sawtooth Hatchery and held until their release.

Joined by House Speaker Bruce Newcomb and other legislators, Idaho Fish and Game Director Rod Sando, members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, salmon advocates and students from Filer High School, Kempthorne released the adult fish that will spawn in October.

If these fish maintain the usual sockeye life cycle, their progeny will migrate to the Pacific Ocean in May of 2002, and adults should return to Idaho in August of 2004, according to a press release provided by the Governor's office. The majority of this year's returning adult salmon are grandchildren of the 6 male and 2 female sockeye that returned to Idaho from the ocean in 1993.

"This is the best return in a generation. We're dedicated to seeing that this will increase," Kempthorne said. "This is ground zero for salmon. This is where it begins, they go to the ocean, and they return here - where it ends. But the end is the beginning of the next generation."

Between 1991 and 1999, 16 wild and 7 hatchery-produced adults returned to Idaho. Through Sept. 5 of this year, 237 hatchery-produced adults had returned - making this the best sockeye return for Idaho since 1977.

Redfish Lake sockeye salmon were listed as endangered in November of 1991, and were the first Idaho fish to be listed. Redfish Lake sockeye are unique in that they travel to the highest elevation, run the longest distance, and travel the farthest south of any North American sockeye population, according to the press release.

"This is a collaborative process. This is what we must do to continue to be innovative and invigorate the process so we can see the restoration of this fantastic fish." Kempthorne said.

The program has four primary elements: 1) the captive broodstock program, 2) habitat evaluations, 3) genetics monitoring, and 4) monitoring and evaluation of fish supplemented back to the system. IDFG is involved with captive broodstock efforts and monitoring and evaluation efforts. NMFS shares captive broodstock responsibilities. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes conduct habitat and lake fertilization work, while the University of Idaho assists with genetic evaluations.

The captive broodstock element that IDFG is responsible for has two primary objectives: 1) to produce genetically prudent broodstocks for future spawning purposes and 2) to produce eggs, and fish for supplementation back to the Stanley Basin.

Since the inception of the program in 1991, approximately 1,000,000 progeny -- eggs, adults, and juveniles in combination -- have been supplemented to Stanley Basin waters.

All project components receive funding from the Bonneville Power Administration channeled through the Northwest Power Planning Council's fish and wildlife program. The fiscal year 2000 budget totaled about $1.7 million.

"They are very complex and expensive measures," said Doug Marker, the NWPPC's senior policy coordinator. He and Mike Field, one of two Idaho appointees to the NWPPC, emphasized that the processes and technology employed in the program are groundbreaking, providing information helpful to other Columbia Basin captive broodstock programs.

"We are very pleased with the success we are reaping right now," Field said. He hoped the strong return signaled a breakthrough for the beleaguered sockeye population with the ultimate goal of reviving robust naturally producing populations. With competition for fish and wildlife funding increasingly competition, it is important to make progress toward that goal, Field said.

"Captive broodstock programs tend to be very expensive. If it doesn't come self-sustaining, we don't know how long the region would like to continue the effort," Field added.

The returning sockeye were in three categories. Markings showed that the bulk, 184, are the products of the program reared at Bonneville Hatchery and released as smolts from below Sawtooth Hatchery or a Redfish Creek weir. A total of 67,000 smolts were released from those locations, Kline said.

Ten of the returning fish had no fin-clips, an indication that they were the product of adult sockeye outplanted in Redfish Lake in 1996 or from "eyed" eggs planted in the lake that year. The eyed eggs are fertilized eggs.

The remaining 41 sockeye adults returning this year are from various other IDFG ventures, such as program-produced fish that were outplanted to spend the winter in the lake before spawning the following year, Kline said.

Barry Espenson
Redfish Sockeye Released to Spawn
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 8, 2000

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