One of a Kind - Blogs
Confusing sockeye hatcheries with sockeye recovery
by Pat Ford
Writer and reporter Lynda Mapes had a fine piece on Snake River sockeye salmon two weeks ago in the Seattle Times.
Snake River sockeye migrate farther and higher than any sockeye on earth: 900 miles inland and 6600 feet above sea level to Idaho’s Redfish Lake. In the 1990s this one-of-a-kind fish fell to the lip of extinction, with annual returns in single digits for a decade. It was the first salmon petitioned for Endangered Species Act listing, in 1991.
20 years later, its story mixes success and failure. The success: a captive rearing hatchery program begun in the 1990s saved it from extinction. The failure: federal policy is turning that hatchery program into a permanent, expensive enterprise that’s almost certain not to restore the fish.
Mapes’ story asks if this expensive program is worth it. Yes, it was worth it to avoid the extinction of Snake River sockeye – an emergency that forced a big intervention. But no, it is not worth it as the centerpiece of a recovery strategy. The hatchery program can’t achieve recovery. Only restoring healthier natural processes in its circle of habitat, thus allowing the fish to restore themselves, can do that. For Snake River sockeye, its most degraded habitat by far is in the 400 miles of federal dams and reservoirs on the lower Snake and Columbia.
Statements in Mapes’ story by Lorri Bodi of the Bonneville Power Administration show the careless way BPA is confusing the sockeye hatchery program with sockeye recovery: "[Snake River sockeye] were functionally extinct. Now, in good years, we have more than 1,000….Our goal is to have a few thousand sockeye again, just as we did in the 1950s, before human impacts were so severe.”
The Most Interesting Fish in the World
“So let me get this straight,” said a friend recently at the SOS-Portland office. “Only one lonely sockeye salmon made its way back to Redfish Lake, Idaho in 1992, then they took its sperm to start a life-support restocking program, and finally the fish was stuffed, mounted, and hung on the wall? Wow. That is an epic story.”
Yes, we think so too. It’s an epic tale and one never far from our minds, especially as we hit the 20th anniversary of his lonely migration home. His name – thanks to the daughter of the onsite hatchery technician – is Larry. Lonesome Larry.
In 1992, Lonesome Larry arrived at the Redfish fish trap after a harrowing 900-mile upstream battle. During this perilous river odyssey, he gained 6,500 feet in elevation and performed acrobatic feats up and over the fish ladders of eight different dams, four on the Columbia, and four on the lower Snake. He did it while shunning food, instinctively focused only on his return home, and the opportunity to spawn.