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A Bad Year For Idaho Sockeye Could Mean A Promising Future

Roger Phillips
Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Fish managers are turning a bad year for sockeye into a record release in 2017.

It was a bad year for endangered sockeye salmon making their way home on the Columbia River. Unusually warm water in Northwest Rivers this summer killed off most of the returning fish. But quick action by fish managers means the few that survived could produce a record number of smolts.

This year was supposed to be a record run, with 4,000 fish headed home to Idaho from the Pacific Ocean. But in early July, water temperatures heated up in the Columbia system and the fish started to die off.

The manager of the Eagle Hatchery, Dan Baker, saw what was happening and set up an emergency “trap and haul” from the few fish that made it to the Lower Granite Dam in Washington.

“We wanted to collect some of those fish that were crossing at Lower Granite and at least get a few back to the program, so we initiated that in mid-July,” says Baker.

Fifty-one sockeye were rescued at the dam. Another 56 made it all the way back to Idaho and were scooped up, as well.

Baker says it was the smallest return since 2007.

“You know, there’s going to be ups and downs with programs as conditions cycle. So, we have to roll with it as we can and do what we can to keep those numbers up a little bit.”

But hatchery workers sprang into action. Baker says those 107 fish were bred with another 800 captive sockeye in reserve to create almost one million fish eggs. That’s a record amount for the hatchery program.

It will take some time for those eggs to become baby salmon. Baker says 800,000 will likely survive and be released - another record. They’ll leave Idaho in May of 2017 for their trip to the Pacific Ocean.

You can see how the fish were saved and bred in this video from Idaho Fish and Game:

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