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Editorial: Breaching dams cheaper way to save Idaho sockeye

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Another point of view…

Breaching dams a better, cheaper way to save Idaho's sockeye

The Seattle Times' recent article on the federal government's work to save sockeye salmon estimated that the per-fish price tag of raising wild fish in hatcheries was $9,000, a spendy proposition that still has not pulled the species back from the edge of extinction, and a better method would be to remove the dams that block the wild fish's age-old migration from the West Coast to Redfish Lake in Central Idaho, according to an Idaho Statesman editorial.

Click "continue reading" to see the entire editorial:

Idaho sockeye salmon recovery effort documented

SALMON FISHERIES — Sockeye salmon that make an incredible 900 mile journey from the ocean up the Columbia River system to reach their spawning areas in central Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains have a grim history of abuse.

They also are in the spotlight of a remarkable effort aiming at their recovery.

The Seattle Times has done a nice job of compiling the story and updating the status of a fishery that deserves our awe and respect.

Seattle Times

The extraordinary effort to save sockeye salmon

Why sockeye crashed: dams, poison and more 

Idaho sockeyes return in second largest numbers since 1950

FISHERIES — At least 1,071 Snake River sockeye salmon spawners have completed their journey from the Pacific Ocean 700 miles upstream to central Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley, making it the second largest return since the 1950s or longer.

Most of the salmon moved upstream in July. When they cross Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River just before entering Idaho — the eighth and final hydro project they encounter up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers — they still have 400 miles to go.

The top sockeye count since Lower Granite was completed in 1975 was 2,201 in 2010. This year’s count is at least 1,502.

Sockeyes make splash in 2010

FISHERIES — Sockeye salmon were big news in 2010.

  • Around 34 million sockeye salmon returned to British Columbia's Fraser River this year – the most since 1913 – compared with last year’s 1.7 million – the lowest in more than 50 years.
  • The Columbia River ushered in 386,524 sockeyes, the most since Bonneville Dam started operating and fish counting started in 1938. The abundance of fish attracted a new crop of anglers to the Upper Columbia.
  • About 1,700 sockeyes made the 900-mile journey from the Pacific Ocean up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers to Idaho's Sawtooth Hatchery or Redfish Lake Creek.That's the most sockeye known to have made the migration since 4,361 were counted swimming up Redfish Lake Creek in 1955.
In the 1880s, before dams inhibited passage, about 25,000-35,000 sockeye salmon returned to five Sawtooth Valley lakes.
The species hit rock bottom in 1990, when zero sockeyes made it beyond Lower Granite Dam, the last Snake River Dam before the fish reach Idaho.
The stock was federally listed as endangered in 1991. Between then and 1998, only 16 wild sockeye salmon returned to Idaho.
A captive breeding program at the Eagle Fish Hatchery saved the run from the brink of extinction.

Good year for sockeye promises show at Redfish Lake this fall

Enough endangered sockeye salmon are returning to central Idaho this year that some will be allowed to swim the final few hundred yards into Redfish Lake under their own power, something that hasn’t happened in two decades due to dismal spawning runs, the AP reports; the last time was in 1990. Come October this year, a spectacular show is expected at Redfish Lake as up to 1,500 sockeye — the males turn a brilliant red just before spawning — complete their life cycle. “The place was named Redfish Lake for a reason,” said Jeff Heindel, conservation hatcheries supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish & Game. “It hasn’t had hundreds or thousands of adults spawning there in decades.”

Up to 1,500 sockeye are expected to return to the Stanley region, up from 833 last year; it’s a third of 1955’s count, and a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands that spawned there 100 years ago.  Biologists attribute this year’s spike to good ocean and river conditions, actions by dam operators to help young fish survive and the success of a sockeye hatchery program that was targeted for abandonment just four years ago; in 2006, only three returned. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.