This year represented a spawning season that gave fisheries staff in the Salmon Region excitement for the future of Chinook Salmon here in Idaho.
This mesmerizing video of six spawning Chinook is from the Lemhi River near Salmon, Idaho. During our Lemhi River redd counts this year, nearly every turn and bend on the river exposed an abundance of spawning fish. The number of redds in the Lemhi River (n = 370) were over double that of the 5-year average (n = 173 redds) and nearly double the 10-year average (n = 219 redds). Additionally, many other populations in the Salmon Region experienced marked increases in the number of redds observed over the past 10 years. Though these numbers are encouraging, it is important to remember they are still considerably lower than historic numbers.
More good news?
There are a variety of factors that influence Chinook Salmon survival on their outmigration to the ocean, during their time growing in the ocean, and the subsequent return to their spawning grounds. A critical factor for Chinook Salmon smolt survival is the condition of the Pacific Ocean during the year that they enter it. Ocean conditions include a variety of things like water quality, salinity and temperature, food quality, and food quantity.
Below is an example of an ocean condition stoplight chart created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The various colors indicate the status of each observed ocean condition. Simply put, green indicates good conditions for Chinook Salmon, and red indicates bad conditions. Most Chinook Salmon smolts that entered the ocean in 2021 will be returning as adults in 2023. These fish entered the Pacific Ocean into the second-best ocean conditions we’ve observed in 24 years. It is encouraging that ocean conditions and a high adult return in 2022 might indicate an upward trend for future returns of Chinook Salmon.