New hatchery aims to boost Snake River’s sockeye production

Magic Valley Times
June 21, 2012

A new hatchery near Springfield in southeastern Idaho means up to a five-fold increase in the capacity of the sockeye recovery program that has kept Snake River sockeye salmon from extinction.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council recently recommended construction of a $13.5 million hatchery to boost production of Snake River sockeye, listed as an endangered species in 1991, and it will continue a long-term effort to rebuild the population to naturally spawning, self-sustaining levels.

The new hatchery will be funded by the Bonneville Power Administration as part of its obligation to mitigate the impact of hydropower dams on salmon.

“With this production facility we are building on our success to date in restoring these unique and valuable fish to Idaho,” Idaho’s council member Bill Booth said. “This is an important step for our state and for the Northwest, as we are showing how a species on the brink of extinction can be restored through the dedication and collaboration of state, federal and tribal scientists and policy-makers.”

When completed in 2013, the new facility will be operated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and will be capable of producing up to 1 million juvenile sockeye annually for release in the Sawtooth Basin of central Idaho, the headwaters of the Salmon River.

Snake River sockeye are the southernmost of their species, and they spawn farther from the ocean — more than 900 miles — and at higher elevation — more than 6,000 feet above sea level – than any other sockeye.

In 1991, Idaho Fish and Game initiated conservation and research projects for sockeye. Just a few years later the number of adult sockeye returning from the ocean to the Sawtooth Basin dropped to zero — in 1995 and 1997 — but reached 1,336 in 2010, an amount not seen since the 1950s.

This success resulted from a captive hatching and rearing program started by Idaho Fish and Game. Today the sockeye are produced at hatcheries in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

The Springfield Hatchery will provide additional incubation and rearing space so that the program can grow beyond the conservation phase and transition to a re-colonization phase. The emphasis will be placed on increased numbers of adults returning from the ocean for use in hatchery spawning plans and to release to the habitat for natural spawning.

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