The lead paragraph in a Sept. 27 CBB article about the Yakama Nation sockeye salmon reintroduction program at Lake Cle Elum incorrectly stated that 1,000 spawners had been transported to the lake this summer. The correct total is 10,000.
The adult sockeye, which were trapped at the mid-Columbia River’s Priest Rapids Dam in July and transported for release into Lake Cle Elum, are now spawning in upstream reservoirs. The Yakama Nation is in its fourth year of reintroduction work that includes transporting sockeye into the lake, monitoring populations, spawning surveys, and developing strategies to maintain the Yakima River basin stock once it becomes re-established.
The number of sockeye transported to the lake has increased each year of the program due largely to a string of strong returns of fish bound for upstream spawning grounds in the Okanogan and Wenatchee river basins. The tribe negotiated an agreement that allows the take of up to 3 percent of overall run size, with a maximum of 10,000. A record return this year allowed the tribe to transport that maximum number of fish to Cle Elum.
Yakama tribal elders describe the value of sockeye to the people as a winter sustenance food to carry people until new spring food arrives. Sockeye also had a high trade value. Tribal members prize the sockeye for its rich flavor. “We hope to one day have a sockeye season in the Yakima basin,” said Virgil Lewis of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council. The Cle Elum River feeds into the Yakima River, which joins the Columbia River in central Washington.
“This is the only reintroduction model like this in the nation,” said Dave Fast, research manager with the Yakama Nation Fisheries. “Our approach includes introduction of two Upper Columbia sockeye populations with different genetic and environmental backgrounds to offer the greatest opportunity for success in the Yakima River basin.”
“The Wenatchee River is different than the Yakima, but the lake is similar,” said Brian Saluskin, fish passage biologist with the Yakama Nation Fisheries. “The Okanogan River is a low river for irrigation, much like the Yakima River.”
“The two stocks are transported to Lake Cle Elum in July, sort themselves out and in the fall come up from the lake to the rivers to spawn,” said Saluskin. “In general, the sockeye come in waves and then spread out.”
Yakama Nation Fisheries is tracking and observing spawning activity. This work includes GPS sockeye redds and spawning locations. Wildlife activity associated with sockeye reintroduction is also being conducted by the tribe’s biologists.
Historically, an estimated 200,000 sockeye would annually return to four lakes in the Yakima River basin - Bumping, Keechelus, Kachess and Cle Elum. Restoring the sockeye returns to sufficient numbers to allow an eventual harvest in the Yakima basin requires ongoing studies and partnerships to obtain permanent passage upstream and downstream for the fish. A temporary passage device is now in place at Cle Elum to help juvenile fish get downstream past the dam. The Yakama Nation continues to work with the Bureau of Reclamation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA, USFWS, Yakima and Kittitas counties, irrigation districts, conservation groups and other partners to obtain permanent fish passage facilities.