20 Aug 2009, 7:25pm
Salmon science
by admin

Record Salmon Run in Idaho

More salmon have returned to Idaho’s Salmon River in 2008 and 2009 than in any summers in over 30 years. Reported in the Idaho Mountain Express:

Hundreds of sockeye return home: 452 ‘red fish’ have arrived in Sawtooth Valley this summer

By Jason Kauffman, Idaho Mountain Express, August 19, 2009 [here]

For the second summer in a row, hundreds of sockeye salmon are pouring into the upper reaches of the Salmon River near Stanley. Their final destination is the Redfish Lake area, in the eastern shadow of the ragged crest of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Altogether, 452 of the “red fish” have arrived at either of two fish traps located on the Salmon River at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery or near the mouth of Redfish Lake Creek.

The back-to-back positive returns of the iconic fish of the Sawtooth Valley is largely the result of increased smolt production at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s captive rearing program. Positive river flows and good ocean conditions have also given the fish a boost in recent years. Last summer, 636 of the fish—sporting the classic green head and red-bodied look of spawning sockeye—arrived home to the high-elevation valley.

The cause-and-effect conclusion of the reporter is not verifiable. Sawtooth Fish Hatchery was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1984. It is capable of collecting and incubating about four million steelhead eggs for later transport and rearing at the Hagerman National Fish Hatchery and Magic Valley Fish Hatchery. Smolt production has been ample for many years (over 150,000 smolts per year) but returning adult salmon have averaged less than one per ~1,000 smolts released.

The successful returns of 2008 and 2009 probably have more to do with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), a pattern of Pacific Ocean temperatures that shifts phases on an inter-decadal time scale, usually about 20 to 30 years. The PDO shifted to negative in 2008, meaning that waters off the coast of northern North American became colder, similar to the cool regime from 1947-1976.

Colder waters are nutrient-rich and provide a more abundant food chain for oceanic salmon. The improved ocean conditions propbably are most responsible for the increase in Idaho salmon retuens.

The first two sockeye of the 2009 season arrived in the Sawtooth Valley in late July.

The two runs more than surpass the recent high of 257 sockeye that came back in 2000, which was the next highest return since 1985. And it’s far more than the four sockeye that came back in 2007. Between 1991 and 1998, a total of just 16 sockeye returned to Redfish Lake.

The historic declines in the fish are tied to over-fishing, mining, poisoning in the early days and, perhaps most significantly, a dam-building boom on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers between 1937 and 1975.

Those contributing factors have been significant, but salmon spend most of their lives in the ocean. Ocean conditions since 1975 have been poor for salmon due to the 32-year-long positive (warmer) PDO from 1976 to 2008.

On Tuesday, Dan Baker, hatchery manager at the Eagle Fish Hatchery, headquarters for the state’s captive breeding program for Redfish Lake sockeye, predicted that as many as 650 to 700 sockeye will have arrived in the Stanley area by the end of summer. Baker said the last fish will likely arrive sometime around the beginning of September.

During the past few springs, Idaho’s hatchery program has released between 150,000 and 175,000 sockeye smolts. The young fish are kept in captivity as long as possible to give them a better chance of surviving the long voyage down the Salmon, Snake and Columbia rivers to the ocean.

“They’re released directly to Redfish Lake Creek or the Salmon River,” Baker said.

Redfish Lake sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) were listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in November 1991. Historically, up to 30,000 sockeye spawned in the Sawtooth Valley’s Alturas, Pettit, Yellowbelly, Redfish and Stanley lakes.

The fish were the first Idaho salmon to be listed under the ESA. Redfish Lake sockeye are unequaled in that they travel to the highest elevation, over 6,500 feet, run the longest distance, about 900 miles, and travel the farthest south of any North American sockeye population.

Idaho fisheries biologists hope that eventually, as many as 2,000 sockeye born from fish allowed to spawn naturally in Redfish Lake will migrate back to the Sawtooth Valley each summer. So far this summer, 69 sockeye born from natural spawners have returned.

Recovery, it seems, is still a long way off.

But that doesn’t mean that fisheries biologists aren’t excited by the successes they’ve seen two years running. Baker said future expansions to the state’s captive breeding program should allow even more sockeye to come home each year.

“It’s very rewarding to see this fish come back,” he said.

22 Aug 2009, 1:49pm
by bear bait

The Lower Granite Dam salmon count at Lewiston-Clarkston, ID, is 1,242 as of the latest posted numbers. One would expect that over 1,000 would get to their natal areas of the upper Salmon River.

It is not impossible to get the runs to 5 figures, and even to 6 figures, if there were a component of Kokanee (land locked sockeye) in the mix. Oregon planted Kokanee in Green Peter Reservoir on the South Santiam, and when some sockeye showed up at the fish elevator for Green Peter, they got a ride to the reservoir. And when the next generation of those fish showed up, they too, got a ride and some spawned above the Green Peter Reservoir. But when there got to be a 3,000 or more returning run, the biologists panicked, and HAD THEM ALL KILLED.

You see, sockeye can be carriers for IHN virus, naturally, and that is threat to hatchery spring chinook. the naturally spawning sockeye run was building out of Green Peter Reservoir from Kokanee plantings (all anadromous fish will go to the ocean if given a chance: rainbow trout (steelhead), brown trout, cutthroat trout (bluebacks to old timers), bull trout (Dolly Varden sea runs), and even the chars like brook trout and Arctic char).

The Spring Chinook run on the Willamette River system (a hatchery fish from the Adams River of Washington or a tributary of the Fraser, I never heard which) is favored, is the fish of choice because the Cascades have really cold headwaters, and it is hard to raise hatchery smolts because they grow so slow, and the Adams River strain of spring chinook is adapted to cold headwaters.

In the never ending story of idiocy from Oregon Fish and Game management, we have the natural spawning sockeye run that started by accident (and having a lake which is necessary to sockeye habitat and rearing) behind a dammed reservoir with a fish lift, but that run was deliberately destroyed due to bureaucratic need to have the iconic Willamette River spring run at Oregon City (which really was a Clackamas River fish before dams on that river reduced runs) to sate the fishery thirst of the urban fishers. A phony run of fish, really, made real by fish ladders here and there.

As an insight, the real propagation problems with fish on the whole of the Willamette River system, and its tributaries, is that there are fish blocking dams on the most productive habitat: Detroit Dam on the North Fork Willamette, Cougar Dam on the McKenzie, Lookout Point on the Middle Fork Willamette, and Fern Ridge on the Long Tom River. Before European engineering, the only time salmonids could get over the falls at Oregon City was during concurrent floods on the Columbia and the Willamette, at high tide. The Willamette typically got two fish friendly floods each year. One in late November or early December when a Chinook wind and a Pineapple Express melted feet of early snow at lower to mid elevations, and in the spring when an early hot spell melted a lot of snow in both the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains. Big spring freshets and big spring tides made the Oregon City (Willamette) Falls navigable for fish going upstream, and the same in early winter.

So when the dams went in after WWII, there were fisheries lost. The one that is missed but not understood or known to most was the cutthroat trout race that lived in the Willamette in summer, holding in deep pools, and able to go upstream until it found cold water, and then in fall, as the water cooled, those fish would fall back down the mainstem Willamette and upper tributaries like the Middle Fork, the McKenzie, and the North Fork Santiam, and use the mainstem as waters rose in winter and the Willamette periodically flooded across the valley. Those cutthroat were seeking refuge up the many smaller tributaries from the Coast Range east side, where some would spawn. I can remember as a little kid visiting the forbidden dam on the Mary’s River above Avery Park, where the mill race began in South Corvallis, and seeing the big cutthroat going up the fish ladder, jumping just like salmon.

Knowing those big fish were in the creeks in winter, you had to be an outlaw in the making, but I did take my steel telescoping fly rod with the Pflueger casting reel on it, and used salmon eggs to catch nice cutthroat out of Oak Creek out behind the OSC Dairy barns and down to almost the mouth above Avery Park. In February and March when trout season was closed.

There are , today, a select few who know how to fish the Willamette and still catch those bigger ‘cuts. It is an art. And only guys with a lifetime on the River know it. I have a picture somewhere of my Dad and I in 1946 when we lived in St. Helens, walking the beach near Warrior Rock where Dad had been fishing for ‘cuts in the Columbia River — “harvest trout” they were called. Later, my Uncle would take me over to the Siletz in early fall, and I would bring my jar of grasshoppers and we would catch “harvest trout” in that river. And below the fish hatchery on Rock Creek. Or over on Drift Creek on the Siletz. Up the N. Fork of the Alsea, and in Five Rivers. September, grasshoppers or royal coachmen or spruce fly streamer.

The average citizen does not have access or any interaction with the powers that be in the ODFW, and I really think they can’t reinvent the wheel, if only because they forgot what a wheel was. We could make our fisheries good again, if we demanded that they so be. It always involves less fishing, which means many will not put out the effort and money for a more conservative fishing opportunity. The money flow will slow, and the ODFW will panic and allow anyone to buy a chance to kill anything, because they want the money. Conservation is bought and paid for by selling opportunities to kill. And taxes on the equipment needed to seek and kill things. So when money becomes hard to come by, conservation is out the door, and money drives the deal. Just like the three fish coho tag this summer. Money. And a fifty percent more chance of killing a wild fish than you had with a two fish limit.



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