Record Snake River Fall Chinook Egg Nests, Again

In 2015, for the third year in a row, the number of Snake River fall Chinook salmon redds, or egg nests, set a record, the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) reported this month.

The Nez Perce Tribe, a CRITFC member and co-manager of a multi-party effort to restore fall Chinook above Lower Granite Dam, reported 9,345 redds were counted last fall in the Snake River Basin between Lower Granite and Hells Canyon dams. The previous records were 6,714 in 2014 and 6,391 in 2013.

The 2015 redd count coincides with the third-highest Snake River fall Chinook run (59,300 fish) since 1975, when the last of the four federal dams on the Snake River, Lower Granite, was completed.

The Snake River fall Chinook recovery effort involves capturing a portion of the fish that return, spawning them in a hatchery, then releasing the progeny into the wild. According to CRITFC, the Nez Perce Tribe releases 450,000 yearling fall Chinook and 2.8 million sub-yearling fall Chinook annually from tribal facilities into the Snake and Clearwater river basins. These releases are increasing the number of adult fall chinook returning above Lower Granite Dam. Many spawn in the wild and are key to increasing that component of the total run.

From just 384 fish, total, counted at Lower Granite Dam in 1990, runs are well over 50,000 today, including a record 60,868 in 2014. The wild-fish component of the run is growing too, CRITFC reported, from 21,142 in 2013 to 14,172 in 2014 and an estimated 16,212 in 2015.

In addition to the Nez Perce Tribe, other co-managers of the recovery program include the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The work is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration through the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

Snake River fall Chinook were listed as a threatened species in 1992. NOAA Fisheries, which administers the federal Endangered Species Act for salmon, issued a draft recovery plan last year, which incorporates the multi-party recovery effort.