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Idaho Fish & Game: Year of the Sockeye

October 4, 2010

BOISE, Idaho - The Idaho Fish and Game Department October newsletter has declared this the "year of the sockeye," with 1,400 of the endangered species expected to complete their journey to Idaho from the ocean this fall. That compares to just one fish in 1992, and zero fish in some years.

Greg Stahl, assistant policy director with Idaho Rivers United, says even with such impressive numbers and reason to be proud, there are things to keep in mind.

"One hundred percent of these fish are the result of hatcheries. Until sockeye are returning to Idaho on their own, without this support, they're not recovered."

Stahl says biologists deserve credit for preserving genetic diversity in the fish, even with so few to work with for the hatcheries in some years. He credits the return of adults this year to the availability of extra water to spill over dams to help the young hatchery fish out to sea, and then productive ocean conditions as the fish matured before they headed inland to spawn.

"But ocean conditions are not always going to be good, and we're not always going to have a lot of spring run-off, either. It's very well established that those factors contribute significantly to the fishes' survival."

The number of returning salmon was estimated at 35,000 before construction of a series of dams on the Snake River in Washington State that blocked the fishes' journey to spawning beds, according to Stahl. And, he says, when the species was declared endangered, some thought it that was the end of the story.

The Fish and Game newsletter is at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/news/fg_news/10/oct.pdf.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ID