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After 45 Sockeye Return to Idaho, Fish and Game Prepares to Release 650 More 

click to enlarge Fish and Game captured 51 sockeye salmon to save them from rising temperatures in the Snake River. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Fish and Game captured 51 sockeye salmon to save them from rising temperatures in the Snake River.
Fish biologists expressed alarm earlier this summer when the temperatures of rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest hit nearly 80 degrees and salmon populations took a serious hit.

Between 50 and 90 percent of the migrating salmon were expected to die on the way to their spawning grounds.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game took quick action in early August, setting traps at the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River, and collecting sockeye salmon—considered an endangered species in Idaho.

The fish were then trucked to the Eagle Fish Hatchery, an eight-and-a-half drive from the dam, and given a place to cool down before spawning season begins.

Fish and Game collected a total of 51 adult sockeye and plans to release them into Redfish and Petit lakes near Stanley in mid-September. 

"This save[d] them half the journey [to Redfish Lake]," Mike Peterson, a biologist at Fish and Game, told Boise Weekly in early August. Peterson has overseen the captive salmon breeding program for almost a decade. "It save[d] them 425 miles and 5,500 feet of elevation. These fish definitely got a boost."

According to a news release from Fish and Game, another 45 sockeyes made the 900-mile journey from the ocean to the Sawtooth Basin this year—out of 400 that passed the Lower Granite Dam earlier this summer. That's the smallest sockeye return since 2007, but it's better than 1992, when only one sockeye returned to Redfish Lake.
click to enlarge The sockeye salmon will now spend the fall spawning in Redfish Lake and Petit Lake in the Sawtooth Basin. - FRANK KOVALCHEK, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Frank Kovalchek, Wikimedia Commons
  • The sockeye salmon will now spend the fall spawning in Redfish Lake and Petit Lake in the Sawtooth Basin.

To help ensure sockeye populations remain healthy, Fish and Game will release another 650 adults into the lakes this month to spawn. Those fish come from the captive broodstock program at the Eagle Fish Hatchery, where more than 3,200 sockeye salmon live.

The fish will spawn during the fall and the eggs will hatch later this winter. The salmon then spend a year and a half in the lake, then migrate to the ocean during the next spring. Fish and Game releases another 900,000 smolts from the Springfield Hatchery to help augment the sockeye population and their chance at survival and return.

Because of the captive broodstock program, as well as favorable conditions in the rivers and ocean in 2014, 1,516 sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Basin—the largest return since 1955.

"I'm hoping this year is a fluke, one of those 100-year events and it's something that may be changed down the road," Peterson told the Weekly in August, talking about the dangerously warm river temperatures. "I don't know what we're going to see in the future. I don't like to think about it."
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