11 adult sockeye make way to Sawtooth Basin

·2 min read

Aug. 5—Eleven adult sockeye salmon have been trapped in the Sawtooth Basin near Stanley in central Idaho.

Idaho Fish and Game officials are expecting a good return of the endangered fish this summer. As of Thursday, more than 2,000 sockeye had been counted at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. That is about three times the 10-year average and the third-highest count on record, according to a Fish and Game news release.

Lower Granite Dam is about halfway to the Sawtooth Basin where the fish spawn in Redfish, Alturas and Pettit lakes at the base of the Sawtooth Mountain range.

Sockeye are critically endangered and returns have seesawed over the last decade. Just 17 adult fish made the trip to their spawning grounds in 2019. That compares to a high of 1,589 that returned in 2014. Only 23 fish returned between 1991 and 1999. That includes two years where no sockeye returned.

In response, the fish were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1991 and returning adults were trapped and placed in a captive breeding program that helped stave off extinction. That program remains an essential part of sockeye conservation. But the run is also getting a boost from another hatchery program. Idaho now releases about 1 million sockeye smolts per year from its Springfield Hatchery near Pocatello. The fish are trucked to the Sawtooth Basin as smolts and released in the Salmon River near its source. Sockeye must survive a 900-mile migration that includes passing eight dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers to reach the ocean. To spawn, adult fish must reverse that trip and scale the eight dams and navigate the length of the Salmon River at a time of year when water temperatures can rise to near-lethal levels for salmon.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.