Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sockeye surge materializes in upper Salmon

Sixty-three sockeye salmon made it to the Redfish Lake area by Monday

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy Jeff Heindel, Idaho Department of Fish and Game By Monday, a total of 63 sockeye salmon had arrived in the Redfish Lake area and Sawtooth Fish Hatchery near Stanley. Here, four of the 257 sockeye that returned to the hatchery in 2000 and were captured for an ongoing captive-breeding program swim in a hatchery tank.

A total of 63 sockeye salmon have arrived so far at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery along the upper Salmon River, fisheries officials report. The total sockeye numbers, 16 of which returned on Monday, Aug. 4, suggest earlier predictions of large numbers of the "red fish" migrating upriver to the Stanley area this year may be met.

Hundreds of miles downriver on Monday, a total of 859 adult sockeye had been counted passing by the Lower Granite Dam, the last barrier on the lower Snake River in southeast Washington that anadromous fish must pass before entering Idaho, official fish counts indicate.

Sockeye entering the lower Snake River are bound for the Redfish Lake area in the Sawtooth Valley. All of these fish originated from an ongoing captive-breeding program managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game that began in 1991.

The numbers at Lower Granite suggest as many as 700 rare sockeye salmon could be headed for the Redfish Lake area near Stanley this summer, Fish and Game fisheries biologists report. That compares to just 257 sockeye that returned to central Idaho in 2000, the next highest run since biologists started tracking the numbers in 1985.

Such a run this summer would be a remarkable improvement above mostly dismal single-digit or nonexistent sockeye returns to the scenic Idaho lake during the past several decades. In all, just 352 wild and hatchery-origin sockeye have migrated back to the Redfish Lake area since 1985, Fish and Game information indicates.

Fisheries biologists say this year's surprisingly good numbers of returning sockeye is likely due to good smolt production four years ago, good out-migration conditions in the rivers and excellent ocean conditions. The run coming up the Snake River into Idaho is just a fraction of a much larger sockeye run that's headed up the Columbia River system that in recent counts has numbered nearly 214,000 fish.

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