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Mixed Bag for Idaho Native Fish this Fall

PHOTO: Sockeye salmon in Redfish Lake. Photo credit: Neil Ever Osborne/Save Our Wild Salmon
PHOTO: Sockeye salmon in Redfish Lake. Photo credit: Neil Ever Osborne/Save Our Wild Salmon
September 20, 2012

BOISE, Idaho - Each autumn, agencies take stock of how the state's native salmon and steelhead are faring. Spring chinook are holding steady compared with last year, summer chinook are down about 70 percent, sockeye are down more than 70 percent and steelhead and fall chinook counts are still under way.

The numbers are quite different than the stellar returns predicted earlier in the year, according to longtime Northwest fisheries biologist Don Chapman, who points out even good news about fish has to be tempered.

"All this talk about record runs and good runs are composed of about 75 percent hatchery fish."

Ocean conditions may be partly to blame for lower-than-expected returns this year, Chapman says. He credits extra water releases over the dams to help young fish to the ocean as key to keeping species afloat, but says even that isn't a sure thing for all species.

"We've got a poor run of steelhead, for example, coming to the Snake. About half of last year and less than half of the 10-year average, and that's troubling to me, given that there was good spill."

Chapman, who also has served as a consultant to the hydropower industry. has long argued that removing the four Lower Snake River dams is the only way endangered salmon and steelhead will be fully recovered – although he says he also wants to see more objective science on the topic.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID