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Snake River Sockeye Return Setting Modern Day Record; In Upper Columbia, 500,000 Cross Wells Dam
Posted on Friday, September 05, 2014 (PST)

Like their upper Columbia River cousins, Snake River sockeye salmon are setting modern-day records for numbers of returning spawners.


Already a total of 2,751 sockeye salmon have been climbing over the lower Snake River’s Lower Granite Dam this year, which is the eighth and final hydro project the fish must hurdle on their 900-mile journey up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers. The 2014 return earlier in August eclipsed what had been the modern-day record annual count, 2,201 in 2010. That record goes back to 1975, the year construction of Lower Granite was completed.


The run is well past its peak, with only 10 sockeye passing Lower Granite during the week ending Wednesday.


Those fish that cleared southeast Washington’s Lower Granite Dam still had about 400 miles to swim upriver to reach central Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley. The fish originated there, having either been released as smolts or produced by natural spawners in the basin’s Redfish Lake.


This has been a very good year for Columbia-Snake river sockeye. A record total of 614,192 fish had been counted at the lower Columbia’s Bonneville Dam through Wednesday. The previous high count for the entire season (dating back to 1938) was 515,673 in 2012.


The greater portion of the run is headed toward the Okanogan River basin, which stretches down from British Columbia into central Washington. A total of 490,609 sockeye had been counted this year through Monday at Wells Dam. Wells, located at Columbia river mile 515, is the ninth major hydro project the fish pass on their spawning journey and the last before turning into the Okanogan.


The 2014 dam count at the mid-Columbia’s Priest Rapids Dam was 608,122 sockeye through Tuesday. Priest Rapids is the first hydro project upstream of the Columbia’s confluence with the Snake River.


A total of 1,313 Snake River sockeye have made their way up that home stretch to the Sawtooth Valley through Wednesday, a number that is approaching the 2010 record total of 1,355 for the season.


The 2014 total represents fish trapped and sampled, for the most part, on Redfish Lake Creek. A portion of those fish have ultimately been passed through to continue their journey toward the lake. Others have been transported to the IDFG’s Eagle Hatchery near Boise, where they will be held until mid-month. A portion of those fish will be spawned at Eagle to perpetuate the hatchery program whole some will be returned to central Idaho for release into Redfish Lake so that they can spawn naturally. Spawning typically takes place in October.


A total of 33 sockeye were trapped Wednesday in the Sawtooth Valley.


The trapping activity this year appears to have peaked with a total of 87 corralled on Aug. 13. During the week ending Sept. 2, daily counts ranged from 12 to 58.


Just over one-third of the fish returning to central Idaho’s high country this year are unmarked, meaning they are the product of adult spawners returned to Redfish Lake or of so-called “residual” sockeye that have spent their entire lifecyle in freshwater rather than swimming to and maturing in the Pacific Ocean.


The sockeye spawners in the lake include “anadromous” fish that matured in the ocean and returned, and hatchery-reared broodstock.


The returning sockeye are in large part due to Snake River Sockeye Salmon Captive Broodstock Program, which was begun early in 1991 to preserve the genetic stock of a severely declined species that was on the brink of extinction. The species was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act later that year.


The program headed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is gaining some ground. This year’s spawner return is the sixth out of the past seven years of more than 757. From 1975 through 2006 only 10 counts exceeded 100.


Between 1991 and 1998, only 16 wild sockeye returned to Idaho.


The Snake River sockeye program is largely paid for by the Bonneville Power Administration as part of its obligation to mitigate the impact of hydropower dams on salmon and steelhead. BPA markets power generated Federal Columbia River Power System and pays for the fish mitigation with revenues from ratepayers.


Partners in the restoration include NOAA Fisheries Service, which shares captive broodstock fish culture responsibilities at two facilities located in Washington state, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which provides smolt rearing for the program. Also, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes conducts habitat investigations geared toward determining the ability of nursery lakes to receive eggs and fish from the program and conducts and evaluates lake fertilization.


The University of Idaho provides genetic support for the program.


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