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New Snake River sockeye hatchery to produce up to 1 million smolts a year
9/9/2013 12:00 AM
Some two decades later, the plight of Lonesome Larry is becoming a distant memory as the Springfield Fish Hatchery opened Sept. 6 in Idaho.
More than 140 people gathered to watch the dedication of the $13.5 million hatchery funded by Bonneville Power Administration ratepayers. The facility will produce up to 1 million Snake River sockeye smolts each year and help BPA to meet part of its obligation to mitigate for the impact of federal hydropower dams on salmon and steelhead in the lower Columbia and Snake rivers.
The facility, which sits on 73 acres, will be operated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. It is the next step in re-establishing a natural population of the iconic species.
“The story of the Snake River sockeye is one of perseverance: Their numbers were once so depressed by harvest, predation, habitat loss and dams that many in the scientific community declared them functionally extinct,” said Lorri Bodi, vice president of Environment, Fish & Wildlife for the Bonneville Power Administration. “But these fish are survivors, and the state of Idaho, BPA, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and other stakeholders weren’t willing to give up on improving conditions for these fish. The Springfield Hatchery is just one piece of a larger effort that has proven successful in bringing back the Snake River sockeye.”
The Snake River sockeye was listed as an endangered species in November of 1991. In May of that year, the Snake River Sockeye Captive Broodstock Program was established by IDFG, BPA, NOAA Fisheries, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The broodstock program sought to preserve the genetic diversity of the species and prevent its extinction.
In 1992, a single male sockeye returned, dubbed Lonesome Larry by Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus. In 1995 and again in 1997, the number of adult sockeye returning from the ocean to the Sawtooth Basin dropped to zero. But by 2010, it had reached 1,336, a number not seen since the 1950s.
The creation of the Springfield Fish Hatchery, in Bingham County, now allows the program to focus on increasing smolt production to assist in large returns of ocean-run adult sockeye to the Stanley Basin in Idaho. The adults will be used in hatchery spawning as well as released to natural habitat to spawn.
“This is a great example of how constructive collaboration can work – work for the species and work for the people we serve,” Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said. “Idaho has a lot of aquaculture expertise, and using hatcheries like this to help boost the runs is a smart investment.”
The increase in adult fish may eventually mean recreational and tribal fishing seasons.
“Opening this hatchery is a big step toward continuing to bring back Idaho’s unique sockeye,” Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said. “With the help and support of our partners in this effort, we look forward to the day when we can set a sockeye season for Idaho’s tribal and recreational anglers.”
The hatchery was designed and constructed by the Idaho-based engineering firm of McMillen LLC. The water supply for the Springfield facility is more than 50 cubic feet per second of cold, clean spring water – just right for raising sockeye.
The current run of sockeye into the Snake River is one of three remaining populations in the Columbia River Basin. The other two populations are in Okanagan and Wenatchee lakes, on tributaries of the upper Columbia River.
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