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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

March 4, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Fall chinook redds on rise in Snake River, and tributaries between Lower Granite and Hells Canyon dams

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Here is a story from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission that discusses an increased numbers of Snake River fall chinook redds:

Continued high numbers of Snake River fall chinook redds throughout the Snake and Clearwater river basins demonstrate the success of tribal restoration projects.

Data released last week in the 2011 Cooperative Fall Chinook Salmon Spawning Summary written by tribal, federal, state, and utility biologists shows approximately 4,600 redds, or gravel nests, were built by returning adults in the Snake River and its tributaries between Lower Granite and Hells Canyon dams.

Distributed widely through 11 of the 12 survey areas throughout the basin, the increase in redds and their distribution are the result of higher adult returns. Over 27,000 adult fall chinook passed Lower Granite Dam in 2011, the second highest return since completion of the four lower Snake River dams.

The high redd counts are the result of tribal efforts to supplement existing Snake River fall chinook with biologically appropriate hatchery-reared fish to assist naturally spawning runs.

The Nez Perce Tribe, in coordination with co-managers from state 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 are implementing the Snake River Fall Chinook Program in an effort to restore fall chinook salmon above Lower Granite Dam.

“The Snake River Fall Chinook Program is returning fish to the Nez Perce Tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing areas and allowing our tribal members to exercise their treaty reserved fishing rights,” Joel Moffett, commissioner for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and treasurer of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee said in a news release. “This success is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication, both of which must continue if we are going to maintain salmon runs into the Snake River Basin.”

The Snake River Fall Chinook Program was initiated in 1994 as a result of legal actions by the tribes under US v. Oregon. Today the Nez Perce Tribe releases 450,000 yearling fall chinook and 2.8 million sub-yearling fall chinook from tribal facilities as part of the overall program that releases 5 million fish back in to the system. These releases into the Snake and Clearwater rivers have increased the number of adult fall chinook returning above Lower Granite Dam. Many of these fish spawn naturally and their offspring have helped increase the natural origin fish returns.

Adult fall chinook salmon returns have increased from less than 1,000 adults to Lower Granite Dam annually from 1975-1995 to a record count of 42,881 in 2010 and 27,966 in 2011. These returns include record numbers of natural origin fish returning to the spawning grounds including 9,853 adults in 2010 and 7,895 adults in 2011.

The higher returns of Snake River fall chinook in recent years allowed co-managers to open their first fall chinook fishery in the Snake River in 35 years in 2009. This fishery has occurred each year since then.

“The success of this program has been a long and hard-fought battle,” said Paul Lumley, executive director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “This program demonstrates the positive role of hatcheries in rebuilding naturally spawning runs.”

(Photo courtesy of Richard Johnson with the Nez Perce Tribe Fisheries, and shows fall chinook redds along the Clearwater River in Idaho.)

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