Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Record number of sockeye counted

Chinook season deemed a success

Express Staff Writer

A sockeye salmon is released into Redfish Lake. Express file photo

    On Thursday July 24, the number of sockeye salmon passing Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River set a new record at 2,270. It was the most sockeye salmon counted at Lower Granite since the dam was built in 1975.
    As of Sunday, July 27, that number had risen to 2,456, and with dozens of sockeye coming through each day, it will continue to rise, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game stated in a news release.
    At the same time, the first adult sockeye of 2014 are arriving in the upper reaches of the Salmon River in the Sawtooth Valley. As of Monday, Fish and Game had trapped 25 sockeye, 24 in the trap on Redfish Lake Creek and one at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery.
    While those numbers pale in comparison to the tens of thousands of sockeye that led to the name of Redfish Lake, they demonstrate a remarkable improvement from 1990, when not one single sockeye was observed passing Lower Granite Dam. In 1991, Snake River sockeye salmon were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
    From 1988 to 1999, the number of sockeye returning to the Sawtooth Valley was in the single digits. During nine of those 11 years, the number was zero or one, including 1992, when then Gov. Cecil Andrus gave the name “Lonesome Larry” to a single male sockeye that was trapped in Redfish Lake Creek.
    It was during that time that Fish and Game joined a multi-agency and tribal effort to save Snake River sockeye from extinction. According to the department, this year’s record return is due in large part to a captive brood stock program begun in 1991 that is managed by Idaho Fish and Game and largely financed by the Bonneville Power Administration. The program has kept the fish’s genetics intact while numbers of returning sockeye have slowly increased.
    The program produces eggs and juvenile fish, called smolts, which are reintroduced to their habitat in the Sawtooth Mountains in a variety of ways. By 2017, Fish and Game expects to release 1 million sockeye smolts.
    Meanwhile, a recently concluded chinook salmon fishing season on the upper Salmon River—the first time that the entire section of river from North Fork to Stanley was open since the 1970s—has been deemed a success.
    “It was great to have this much opportunity available to anglers,” said Greg Schoby, Idaho Department of Fish and Game fisheries manager for the Salmon Region.
    The section of river from North Fork, near the town of Salmon, to the East Fork confluence closed Sunday, while the section upstream of the East Fork had closed on July 19.
    Beginning in 2005, for the first time in about 30 years, portions of the upper Salmon were opened to chinook fishing on a year-to-year basis. None was open last year.
    Between early June and July 28, 2,009 chinook salmon returned from the ocean to the Sawtooth Hatchery upstream from Stanley. Hatchery Manager Cassie Sundquist called that number “on the higher end of normal.”
    “We expected a larger number this year because the number of adults that produced this generation [four years ago] were higher than usual,” Sundquist said.
    She said the numbers of returning fish usually peak in early July and again, to a less extent, in the first or second week of August. The most that have returned in one day so far this year was 118 on July 7.
    Sundquist said the extent of the fishing season each year depends on the estimated number of fish remaining after those needed for brood stock are caught. Those remaining are allocated 50-50 between sport anglers and tribe members.
    Schoby said most of the fish caught this year were upstream from Challis. He said the fish were not congregating much in pools downstream from there, but rather heading directly to the Pahsimeroi Hatchery.
    “A lot of the upper river stuff fished pretty well,” he said.
    There is no fall chinook season on the upper Salmon River, as there is on the lower Salmon, Clearwater and Snake rivers.
Greg Moore:

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