A huge run of sockeye salmon is surging into the Columbia River this year, with counts this week approaching the daily record for sockeye passage at Bonneville Dam.
This comes after big sockeye runs in 2008 and 2009.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials say the state could see higher numbers of endangered Snake River sockeye salmon returning this year from a run that has been endangered for years and the object of intense recovery efforts.
The 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.
At Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, the run through Tuesday totaled 134,058 sockeye; over the past 10 years, the average through June 22 has been 42,363.
The run surged this week to near-record levels for daily dam passage. On Sunday, there were 25,011 sockeye counted at the dam, 26,873 on Monday and 25,125 on Tuesday.
In a report to anglers this week, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife office staff in Vancouver said, “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 transponder tags embedded in a sampling of hatchery-reared fish are being counted electronically, and those counts already show sockeye crossing the dam on their way to the Snake River into Idaho.
A much larger 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 the number 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, which followed another big run of 213,607 in 2008.
When the big run arrived two years ago, the 10-year season average was 58,637 sockeye.
Idaho is currently borrowing hatchery space throughout the Stanley Basin to produce 200,000 sockeye smolts each year. Heindel said 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.
In 2006, only 17 sockeye crossed Lower Granite Dam on the Snake northwest of Clarkston.