Idaho's sockeye salmon captive breeding program may pay off this year with the return of at least 100 of the endangered fish.
Fisheries research biologist Paul Kline said more than 300 adult sockeye produced in Fish and Game's captive broodstock program had been counted passing Lower Granite Dam, the last dam in the sockeyes' journey back to Idaho. At least 100 sockeye should reach their traditional spawning area in the Sawtooth Valley. In 1991, Idaho began a rare captive broodstock program after the sockeye was placed on the federal endangered species list.
As of July 31, 40 adults had reached the Sawtooth Valley where they were trapped at Redfish Lake Creek or the Sawtooth Hatchery. At Lower Granite, a few fish were still passing, but the bulk of the run appeared to be over. Biologists expected this year's run to be early by about a week, so were not surprised by the fishes' timing.
In the 10-year history of the program, a 100-fish return seems enormous compared to the years when one or no sockeye came home from the Pacific.
Biologists had a hint that this year's run would be much better when seven jacks showed up at the Sawtooth Hatchery last year. This year's run over Lower Granite Dam is the largest since 1977.
In 1998, an estimated 143,000 sockeye salmon smolts left the Sawtooth Valley en route to the ocean. The fish returning this year are from that outmigrant group. That year, 81,000 yearling smolts were released into the Upper Salmon River and into Redfish Lake Creek to head immediately downstream. Another 60,000 smolts migrated from Redfish, Alturas, and Pettit Lakes where they had been planted in 1997 as sub-yearlings. About 2,000 wild or natural smolts, most of which came from adult or eyed-egg plants to Redfish Lake, also headed downriver in 1998.
Kline said most of the adults will be released to spawn naturally in the three lakes while 10 to 20 may be kept and incorporated into the spawning program at Eagle Hatchery. Additional hatchery-produced adults will be available to plant this year as well. The sockeye recovery program is a cooperative effort with IDFG, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the University of Idaho sharing responsibilities. The project is funded entirely by the Bonneville Power Administration.