NAMPA (AP) — Wildlife experts have reported more than a dozen sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake in central Idaho after reporting a record-low number of salmon last year.
State Department of Fish and Game fishery experts Dan Baker and John Powell said sockeye salmon survival is not totally in jeopardy after 16 sockeye salmon returned to the lake by Aug. 10, the Idaho Press reported.
Sockeye salmon are a prized sport fish and the Idaho run is culturally important to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, which have worked to restore habitat. An estimated 150,000 sockeye at one time returned annually to central Idaho, and Redfish Lake was named for the abundant red-colored salmon that spawned there.
Federal officials say the run declined starting in the early 1900s due to overfishing, irrigation diversions, dams and poisoning, eventually teetering on the brink of extinction in the early 1990s.
Last year, a record-low 17 sockeye salmon returned to Idaho, but experts expect better return rates than last year. More than 412 sockeye have passed the Lower Granite Lake Dam on the Snake River in southeastern Washington on their way up the river into Idaho so far this year.
Those fish will be trapped by the state agency and transported to the Eagle Hatchery, where genetic testing will determine if they will be incorporated into the captive broodstock, which is keeping the salmon population alive in Idaho.
“Even if no adult sockeye salmon returned from the ocean, the Redfish Lake sockeye salmon population would continue to persist through the efforts of this program. A year with no returning sockeye is obviously the worst-case scenario, and will hopefully never come to pass,” Baker and Powell said.
Idaho Conservation League spokesman Scott Ki said that the higher numbers of returning sockeye this year is encouraging, but the fish still face considerable obstacles.
“Factors that keep wild salmon from returning include warm water and ocean conditions, predators, degraded habitat, commercial and sport fishing (harvests), hatchery fish and dams (hydropower),” Ki said. “It’s a wonder that any of these fish can still make it back.”