First sockeye salmon reaches central Idaho

Idaho Fish and Game officials say the first two sockeye salmon of 2020 have returned to Redfish Lake Creek trap near Stanley – the two are among the 412 sockeye that have crossed Lower Granite Dam through Aug. 2 and signals a substantially larger return to Idaho than last year.

This year’s sockeye return appears to be slightly later than usual, and fisheries managers expect more fish will cross Lower Granite, which is the last dam the fish cross before reaching Idaho. Based on historical conversion rates between Lower Granite and the Sawtooth Basin, if no more fish crossed the dam, about 124 to 165 sockeye would return to the basin this year and likely surpass the last two year’s returns.

Only 17 sockeye completed the migration to the Sawtooth Basin in 2019, which was the lowest in more than a decade, and 113 made it in 2018.

This year’s return over the dam is already the highest since 2016, when 816 fish were counted at the dam.

Sockeye returning to the Sawtooth Basin from the Pacific must complete a 900-mile migration though the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers that includes crossing eight dams and climbing 6,500-feet elevation.

When Idaho sockeye were listed in 1991 under the federal Endangered Species Act, only four adult sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Basin. The total number of sockeye that returned from 1991-99 was 23 fish, including two years when no sockeye returned.

Over the 10 years spanning 2010 to 2019, the annual sockeye return to the Sawtooth Basin averaged 558 fish, with annual returns ranging from 17 in 2019 to 1,579 in 2014. (Idaho Department of Fish and Game)