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For the week of July 23 - 29, 2003


Idaho’s kings return

Sawtooth hatchery processes
chinook returns

Express Staff Writer

A few of Idaho’s kings are returning to the ramparts of the Sawtooth Mountains this year in a big, big way.

Each day at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery south of Stanley, Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists measure and handle massive chinook salmon that have returned to the Sawtooth Valley from the Pacific Ocean. Mallory Robison, 4, of Logan, Utah, said the chinook salmon she saw on Saturday were the biggest fish she ever saw. They were "slimy, big," the bashful little girl said. Express photos by Willy Cook

Among the chinook salmon returning to Idaho are a few five-year-olds measuring more than 40 inches and weighing nearly 40 pounds. At the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery on Saturday, Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists measured and released two fish measuring roughly 106 centimeters. That’s 42.4 inches or 3.5 feet.

Chinook, sometimes called king salmon, are "quite often" that big, said Sawtooth Hatchery fish culturist Mel Hughes. However, the largest fish this year measured 117 centimeters, he said.

The fish are "slimy, big," said Mallory Robison, 4, from Logan, Utah. Mallory, who was visiting the Sawtooth Hatchery with her parents, said the chinook salmon she saw were far-and-away the largest fish she had ever seen.

Each day at 9 a.m. between June and early September, biologists at the Sawtooth Hatchery empty a large fish trap containing salmon that have traveled 900 miles from the Pacific ocean to spawn in the region’s cold, clear water.

Sawtooth Fish Hatchery Assistant Manager Mark Olson went out of his way to accommodate questions from curious onlookers. This fish, the biggest one trapped on Saturday, was 106 centimeters long. That’s about 3.5 feet. Express photos by Willy Cook

On Saturday, a group of spectators was well accommodated, and gasps of excitement emerged from shining faces as the largest of the fish was handled, anesthetized and measured.

Sawtooth Hatchery Assistant Manager Mark Olson said the fish are trapped in order to determine whether they are of hatchery or natural origin, and to return some of the fish to the hatchery’s brood stock program. All naturally born fish are returned to the river, along with some of the returning hatchery-raised fish, he said.

Wearing waders to protect him from the cold water, Tony Herold, a Fish and Game biological aide, climbed into the deep trap and netted the salmon. He then passed the net to Olson and Mike Setlock, who immersed the fish in anesthetic.

After being anesthetized, handled and measured, most of the chinook salmon trapped on Saturday were released back into the Salmon River after a short truck ride upriver of the hatchery. Hatchery-raised fish that were kept will be used to bolster the hatchery’s broodstock program. Express photos by Willy Cook

Once anesthetized, the fish were measured, and genetic samples were taken. A test was also performed to determine if the fish possessed a metal wire in its jaw. Detection of a wire indicated a hatchery-raised fish.

Natural-origin fish, along with some hatchery-raised fish were then placed in the back of a truck, which was used to deliver them back to the river, where they will spawn naturally.

By Saturday, 807 chinook had returned to the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery. Of those, 379 were hatchery-raised, and 428 were born in the wild.



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