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For the week of August 18th, 1999 through August 24th, 1999

Two sockeye make it to Redfish

Express Staff Writer

In the past week, two Sockeye Salmon made it back to the species’ historic spawning grounds beneath the shadow of the Sawtooth Mountains.

That means they negotiated over 900 miles of the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers, eight dams and numerous natural perils along the way.

Since 1991, only 16 sockeye salmon have returned to Redfish Lake.

The first Chinook salmon have also begun to arrive and are beginning the process of breeding. Currently, no Chinook nests—called redds—have been sighted.

According to Sawtooth Hatchery manager Brent Snider, one of the newly arrived sockeye showed up Thursday, and the second on Monday morning.

Both are hatchery raised fish that have only spent one year in the ocean, and both are male. Snider pointed out that the more fish that return—regardless of sex—the better the odds are of maintaining a healthy genetic base for breading more of the fish in upcoming years.

The two fish are currently being held in a tank at the Sawtooth Hatchery, near Redfish Lake, but will soon be transported to the Eagle Hatchery in Boise where a captive breeding program has been going on since 1991, the year of the Sockeye’s endangered listing.

"These two fish are the progeny of fish that returned to Idaho in 1993. They headed out in May of ’98," Snider said.

In the past six weeks, 22 sockeye were sighted passing Lower Granite Dam—the last of the eight dams the fish must circumvent on the Columbia and Snake rivers—on their journeys to the lakes of Idaho.

According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s anadromous fisheries coordinator, Sharon Kiefer, it is believed that most, if not all, of the returning sockeye are hatchery released fish that have only spent one year in the ocean. Typically, Kiefer said, returning after only one year in the ocean is behavior exhibited by hatchery-released fish.

"We’re not sure if any adult sockeye (meaning wild sockeye) have returned," she said.

Sockeye salmon once returned to the lakes of the Sawooth Valley by the tens of thousands. Last year, three were sighted crossing Lower Granite Dam, and one of the three made it back to Redfish Lake.

Keifer said it still doesn’t appear that sockeye survival rates are indicative of what is needed to sustain the fish.

"What we need are some wild fish to return for survival to really work, but we’re not going to complain about a little improvement," she said.


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