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No Spring Chinook Season for Upper Salmon River

With the expectation of excellent chinook returns to Idaho this spring, anglers may be wondering why the upper Salmon River will have no season on the big fish. When considering this question it is important to remember that the season will be on returning hatchery fish as opposed to wild chinook. Because the majority of the salmon returning to the upper Salmon River are considered to be naturally produced fish, or are hatchery fish spawned from naturally produced parents, they are protected under the Endangered Species Act. It is necessary to protect the distinct genetic stock of chinook that has persisted in the upper Salmon River. These particular fish have adapted over thousands of years to travel the longest migratory route taken by any chinook in the world. Their 1,800-mile round-trip journey from spawning ground to ocean and back again is genetically programmed into these fish. Additionally, nearly all these fish originate from the upper Salmon River itself, not from outside sources. The activities at both the Sawtooth and Pahsimeroi hatcheries may lead some anglers to question why those fish cannot be used for sport fishing. Again, this goes back to the protection of the unique genetic stock of the chinook in the upper Salmon River. Both hatcheries act to supplement existing populations of fish, not only to produce catchable fish. The chinook smolts that come from these hatcheries possess the same genetic adaptations of natural chinook that return to the Pahsimeroi and upper Salmon rivers. These smolts then return as adults and are used to "seed" appropriate habitats upstream from the hatcheries to augment the population of naturally produced fish. Simply adding chinook from other locations would eventually dilute the genetic make-up of upper Salmon River chinook and the stock would be forever lost. Will the glory days of salmon fishing on the upper Salmon River ever return? Thirty years ago anglers enjoyed a sustainable chinook fishery. In those intervening 30 years, habitat and migratory conditions have changed. Much work has been done to help existing habitat and the need to change migratory conditions has been recognized. Good water conditions and high ocean productivity for the past few years have benefited Idaho's chinook. If all these factors come together, fishermen may once again find themselves looking forward to angling for the big fish of springtime.