Sockeye to be moved from flood-threatened Idaho hatchery

AP News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2017 6:46 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Endangered Snake River sockeye salmon will be moved from a southwest Idaho hatchery because flood waters from the nearby Boise River are threatening the facility, officials announced late Wednesday.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game said that starting Thursday some 4,000 fish will be removed from the Eagle Fish Hatchery west of Boise and trucked to the Springfield Fish Hatchery in eastern Idaho.

The hatchery holds broodstock that produce future generations of fish.

Snake River sockeye teetered on the brink of extinction in the early 1990s. They've been the focus of an intense recovery program centered at the Eagle Fish Hatchery after being listed for federal protection in 1991.

Officials say the primary fear is floodwater reaching electrical pumps needed to keep oxygenated water circulating.

"Fish and Game crews have placed sandbags around buildings and electrical pumps that supply water to the hatchery," the agency said in a statement. "However, if power is lost for an extended period of time, the hatchery's sockeye could be in jeopardy."

The facility also has a genetics lab that works to make sure hatchery-produced fish have genetic diversity so future generations can eventually sustain a wild population. Adult fish returning from the ocean travel 900 miles up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers to high-elevation Sawtooth basin lakes in central Idaho.

The hope is that the hatchery-raised fish and the returning fish will spawn future generations. The ultimate goal is a self-sustaining population of wild fish returning to Idaho.

"(The hatchery) is obviously very critical as part of the long-term plan to recover those fish," said Russ Kiefer, a fisheries biologist with Fish and Game.

That goal took a hit in 2015 when warm water in the Columbia River Basin killed 99 percent of returning adult fish, with only 55 completing the journey. A trap at a Snake River dam captured another 35 sockeye salmon. Of the 90 total fish, five were released into Pettit Lake to spawn naturally and 85 went to the Eagle Fish Hatchery for artificial spawning.

The fish rebounded with better conditions in 2016 when 567 sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Valley in central Idaho.

Young fish produced by broodstock at the Eagle Fish Hatchery are taken to the Springfield Fish Hatchery to be raised to a larger size and then released in central Idaho to start the trip to the ocean.

Fish and Game plans to release about 735,000 juvenile sockeye salmon into Redfish Lake Creek in about a month, Kiefer said.