Hatchery Steelhead Setting Records;
by Roger Phillips
With this year's huge salmon run already here and a projected record steelhead run to follow, does it mean the fish are no longer endangered?
The short answer is no. While this year's salmon and steelhead runs may set abundance records, there are big asterisks next to those numbers. Fish counting didn't start until the dams were built on the Snake and Columbia river systems. The first, Bonneville Dam, was built in the 1930s, and the last, Lower Granite, was completed in 1975.
Before the dams, millions of wild salmon and steelhead migrated up and down the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Today, Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead are the remnants of the original populations that naturally reproduced in Idaho rivers and then migrated to the ocean and returned to spawn. They are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
When dams were built on the Snake River, many wild runs of steelhead and salmon were blocked from their native spawning grounds, such the Boise and Payette rivers.
When those runs were wiped out, hatcheries were built to offset wild fish that were lost. Most of the salmon and steelhead that have returned, or will return this year, are hatchery fish.
These fish are produced to provide fishing opportunity, not replace wild salmon and steelhead.
This year, both wild and hatchery salmon and steelhead are returning from the ocean in large numbers.
However, wild fish are not returning in large enough numbers to sustain natural runs.
Also, this is only one year, and odds are slim runs this large will continue in the future.
"We will take what we can get, but I wouldn't call this recovery," Idaho Department of Fish and Game's anadromous fish manager Sharon Kiefer said. "A key aspect of recovery is consistency."
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