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Snake River Sockeye Trickling Into Stanley Basin; Upper Columbia Sockeye Numbers Far Below Average
Posted on Friday, August 11, 2017 (PST)

After an 800 mile journey through eight dams and 6,500 feet in elevation gain, the first batch of endangered Snake River sockeye salmon are arriving in Idaho’s Stanley Basin, including four naturally produced fish and nine hatchery fish as of August 9, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game information.


Some 226 of the Endangered Species Act-listed sockeye had passed Lower Granite Dam as of August 7. Lower Granite is the last dam the fish hurdle on a journey that will go another 400 miles beyond the dam into the Stanley Basin. Last year on the same date, some 797 sockeye had passed the dam and the 10-year average is 1,043.


Based on historical passage timing, IDFG’s Russ Kiefer said at the August 9 interagency Technical Management Team meeting that Idaho is “pretty confident that all sockeye have passed Lower Granite Dam and more fish have moved up into the basin and that’s good news.”


Biologists are expecting about 150 fish total to move into the Stanley Basin this year, IDFG says.


“Typically, about 95 percent of the run has passed through Lower Granite by early August,” Eagle Hatchery Manager Dan Baker said.


While recent sockeye runs are tiny compared with other salmon runs, they’re a vast improvement over the 1990s. When Idaho sockeye were listed in 1991 under the federal ESA, only four adult sockeye returned to the Stanley Basin. The combined annual returns from 1991-99 was 23 fish, including two years when no sockeye returned to Idaho, IDFG says.


Snake River sockeye took another big hit in 2015 when low water and high temperatures stopped most from passing Lower Granite Dam, sparking a rescue trap and haul operation at the dam by IDFG and the Nez Perce Tribe.


Although more than 500,000 sockeye had passed Bonneville Dam in 2015, and some 4,000 of those were destined for the Snake River’s Sawtooth Basin, less than 100 fish made the long journey. Some 56 adults were trapped in the Sawtooth Basin and 35 were trapped at Lower Granite and hauled to Eagle, Idaho.


(See, CBB, December 4, 2016, “Post-Mortem 2015 Snake River Sockeye Run; 90 Percent Of Fish Dead Before Reaching Ice Harbor Dam,”


Still, it’s been a dismal year for sockeye in the entire Columbia River Basin. Although the preseason forecasted run was 198,500 with 1,400 headed to the Snake River, poor passage numbers at Bonneville Dam resulted in a downgrade by the U.S. v Oregon Technical Management Team to 88,200 fish as measured at the river’s mouth, with just 401 heading to the Snake River.


The count of sockeye at Bonneville Dam as of August 7 was 87,584, but the daily passage is falling quickly, with 10 to 20 fish passing the dam each day this week. Last year on the same date, 342,156 sockeye had passed and the 10-year average is 315,442.


Most of the sockeye that pass Bonneville will head into the upper Columbia River, including into British Columbia via the Okanagan River. Just 42,044 of the fish have passed Wells Dam as of August 7. Some 214,671 had passed on the same date last year and the 10-year average is 205,879.


According to the Okanagan Nation Alliance in British Columbia, the below average number of sockeye expected to return to the Okanagan Basin’s Osoyoos and Skaha lakes means that this year “only a small food fishery will be in place” (


In addition, due to the expected poor return, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed recreational fishing in Osoyoos Lake, saying that it wouldn’t open fishing unless at least 80,000 fish had passed Wells Dam, about twice the current count.


About 80 percent of the sockeye entering the Columbia River are of Okanagan stock, according to Okanagan Nation Alliance fisheries biologist, Richard Bussanich.


The poor run is not unique to the Columbia, Snake and Okanagan rivers. Lower than expected returns are taking place Pacific-wide from California up to the Skeena and Nass rivers in Northern BC, according to Bussanich. He pointed to warmer than normal water off the West Coast over the past few years that is “not salmon friendly.”


“We just have to wait for the next salmon-friendly cycle which is hopefully sooner, but maybe 2021-22,” he said.


In Idaho, federal and state agencies have a three-prong strategy to recover Snake River sockeye, IDFG says.


--Adults returning from the ocean are collected annually in the Stanley Basin at Redfish Lake Creek and the nearby Sawtooth Fish Hatchery.

--Some of those returning adults are spawned in the hatchery, and others released to spawn naturally in Redfish Lake.

--IDFG also raises and maintains a “captive broodstock” of sockeye that are spawned to augment the sockeye returning from ocean. Those three sources provided about 740,000 young sockeye that were released, or naturally migrated from Redfish Lake, during spring.


Also see:


--CBB, July 28, 2017, “2017 Snake River Sockeye Return To Lower Snake Dams Nearly Complete, Passage Numbers Low,”


-- CBB, July 21, 2017, “Summer Chinook, Sockeye Runs Downgraded; Treaty Commercial Fishery Extended,”


--CBB, July 14, 2017, “Harvest Managers Approve More Tribal Fishing, Concerns Expressed Over Low Sockeye, Summer Steelhead,”


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