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Idaho dedicates hatchery to wild sockeye revival

FISHERIES -- State and federal officials are gathering today just outside of Springfield, Idaho, near American Falls Reservoir to mark the completion of a new hatchery that will take the recovery of Snake River sockeye to a higher level.

The $13.5 million facility will be capable of producing up to 1 million juvenile sockeye annually for release in the Sawtooth Basin of central Idaho, the headwaters of the Salmon River.

This additional incubation and rearing space will move the sockeye recovery effort from the conservation phase to a re-colonization phase where emphasis will be on returning increasing numbers of ocean-run adults to use in hatchery spawning and to release to the habitat for natural spawning.

The increase may eventually lead to recreational and tribal fishing seasons.

The hatchery will be operated by Idaho Fish and Game. It was was funded by the Bonneville Power Administration as part of its obligation to mitigate the impact of hydropower dams on salmon and steelhead.

Read on for more details about the hatchery and the history of the remarkable fish that, despite the formidable barriers of dams and reservoirs, make a 900-mile return up the Columbia and Snake River systems to their spawning areas in the Sawtoon Mountains.

The hatchery was designed and constructed by the Idaho-based engineering firm of McMillen LLC. The water supply for the Springfield facility is more than 50 cubic feet per second of cold, clean spring water – just right for raising sockeye.

Snake River sockeye were listed as an endangered species in 1991. Idaho Fish and Game initiated conservation and research efforts for sockeye earlier that same year. Just a few years later the number of adult sockeye returning from the ocean to the Sawtooth Basin dropped to zero – in 1995 and 1997 – but reached 1,336 in 2010, an amount not seen since the 1950s.

This success resulted from redundant captive broodstock programs operated at hatcheries in Idaho and Washington. Today the sockeye are produced at hatcheries in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Snake River sockeye rearing and spawning habitat in the Sawtooth Basin is considered to be in excellent condition because it has experienced limited human impacts.

The current run of sockeye into the Snake River is one of three remaining populations in the Columbia River Basin. The other two populations are in Okanogan and Wenatchee lakes, on tributaries of the upper Columbia River.

Partners in the sockeye recovery effort include Idaho, Oregon, Washington, NOAA-Fisheries, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, Bonneville Power Administration and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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