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Idaho sockeye running with big Columbia fish surge

Near record sockeye numbers crossing Bonneville

LEWISTON, Idaho — Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials say the state could see higher numbers of endangered Snake River sockeye salmon returning this year.

Numbers of the fish have been trending sharply upward, with 833 returning to the Stanley Basin last year. Jeff Heindel, conservation hatcheries supervisor for the department in Boise, told the Lewiston Tribune that mark could be exceeded this year and he expects returns of between 500 to 1,000 fish annually over the next few years.

This year’s sockeye run on the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam is shaping up to be another big one.

Through Tuesday, a total of 134,058 sockeye had been counted at the dam compared with a 10-year average of 42,363.

The surge this week includes Sunday with 25,011, Monday with 26,873 and Tuesday with 25,125.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reported this week, “The 25,011 sockeye counted at Bonneville Dam yesterday (Sunday) was the second highest daily count since at least 1938. The record is 27,112 fish on July 7, 1955.”

Small electronic transponder tags embedded in a sampling of hatchery-reared fish are also being counted with a handful so far migrating through the dam with tags from hatchery facilities far up the Snake River in Idaho.

A large number of tagged fish already over the dam are headed for Lake Wenatchee, raising speculation among anglers that the lake may open for a recreation season despite a pre-season prediction that the run would fall below a surplus needed for harvest.

The last few years have seen a big upswing in sockeye returns. Last year’s run was 177,000 sockeye over Bonneville.

Idaho is currently borrowing hatchery space throughout the basin to produce 200,000 sockeye smolts each year. Heindel says that could change soon — the Bonneville Power Administration is in the process of purchasing a hatchery site at Springfield, in southeast Idaho. He says the hatchery could produce as many as 1 million smolts per year.

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