Adult sockeye ready to spawn in Redfish Lake after migrating 900 miles from the ocean.
Completion of a new Snake River sockeye salmon hatchery in Idaho in December will inaugurate changes in how the state and its partners are working to restore the iconic species to the headwaters lakes of the Salmon River, a Snake tributary.
Since the species was listed as endangered in 1991, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, NOAA Fisheries, and the Shoshone Bannock Tribe have operated a captive brookstock program using a hatchery in Eagle, Idaho, primarily, to rescue genetic material from the few remaining fish and begin rebuilding the run by releasing hatchery-bred eggs, presmolts, and smolts into natal waters to encourage natural production. The near-term goal is to avoid extinction and maintain genetic diversity. The long-term goal is to rebuild naturally spawning populations to levels that could support tribal and sport harvest.
The new, $13.5 million hatchery near Pocatello is an important step toward the long-term goal. Eggs produced at other hatcheries operated by IDFG and NOAA will go through final incubation and rearing to the smolt stage at the Springfield facility and then be released each spring at the outlet of Redfish Lake. The state expects that the additional smolt production -- up to 1 million annually -- will lead to higher numbers of returning adult sockeye, and these fish will help move the program from a focus on producing enough fish annually to avoid extinction to developing an integrated conservation hatchery program that results in sufficient numbers of adult sockeye returning from the ocean each year to support naturally spawning populations.
Redfish Lake is the initial focus of the increased smolt releases. Of the three Salmon River headwaters lakes, Redfish is the one with the greatest sockeye-production potential. As the returns improve, additional hatchery actions will be taken to restore natural production in the other two lakes, Pettit and Alturas.
Here is IDFG’s timeline for future major actions, and a link to a brief Council staff memo:
- December 2, 2013: Estimated ship date of the first sockeye eggs to Springfield Hatchery.
- May, 2015: Estimated ship date of first cohort of “Springfield smolts” for release into Redfish Lake Creek
- July, 2017: Estimated return date of the first cohort of “Springfield adults” to Redfish Lake as 4-yr olds.