In its fourth year of a program to reintroduce sockeye salmon to the Yakima River Basin, the Yakama Nation has been collecting thousands of adult fish for release in a lake on the east slope of the Cascades.
Tribal fisheries workers have collected about 10,000 sockeye this year at Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River for release into Lake Cle Elum, where they will spawn this fall.
Eventually, the effort may lead to a self-sustaining run of sockeye.
Also known as the “blueback,” sockeye are revered by Pacific Northwest tribes. Juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean for about two years, then return upriver to spend several months in a lake before spawning in mountain creeks and rivers. They were eradicated in central Washington rivers when the rivers were dammed, barring fish passage.
The tribe captured 1,000 fish in 2009 and 4,100 fish last year. The sockeye come from one of two fish runs: Lake Wenatchee and Lake Ossoyous in British Columbia.
The total sockeye run in the Columbia River is projected to be 540,000 fish this year. The record since counting at dams was begun is 388,000 in 2010.
Next summer represents a major milestone for the program. That is when the first adults initially planted in Lake Cle Elum in 2009 are expected to return to the Yakima River to start the life cycle all over again.
In addition to sockeye, the Yakama Nation has been working to restore coho salmon and summer chinook to the basin.
The public can watch sockeye spawn in the lake’s tributaries this fall. The fish are likely to stand out with their distinctive bluish-green body color and reddish heads. The fish are not intended to be caught, and fishermen face steep fines for catching them.