Sometime around the first of November, kokanee salmon begin to show up at Granite Creek on Lake Pend O'reille in preparation for spawning. Shortly thereafter, Idaho Fish and Game employees and volunteers begin to show up to gather eggs for the kokanee hatchery program.
The program provides a supply of eggs for the Cabinet Gorge Hatchery, the largest kokanee hatchery in the world. The hatchery was built with funds from the Bonneville Power Administration and Avista Corp., as mitigation for fish and wildlife habitat lost when the Cabinet Gorge Dam was built on the Clark Fork River in 1952.
The dam blocked all upstream fish migration into 90% of the drainage, thus preventing spawning by a segment of the populations of bull trout, kokanee and rainbow trout in Lake Pend O'reille. The resulting lack of tributary spawning habitat, the loss of shoreline spawning habitat through fluctuating water levels, the loss of fish downstream in flood years, and predation by trout and char (rainbow trout, lake trout, bull trout) all make the hatchery program more important in the IDFG's efforts to restore kokanee populations in Pend O'reille Lake.
A temporary weir and trap are set up at Sullivan Springs on Granite Creek to capture kokanee ascending the stream to spawn. The trapped fish are collected, their eggs and milt are stripped and the eggs fertilized to hatch and rear kokanee at the Cabinet Gorge Hatchery.
The goal of the artificial spawning operation is to generate 10 million eggs annually, however, that goal is seldom reached.
After rearing, offspring of the operation are released in several locations in the Pend Oreille drainage.
Volunteers play a major role in egg collection for the kokanee project. Two to five volunteers assist Fish and Game employees each day that eggs are taken.