Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

Sockeye Run Sets An All-Time Record

Ecotrope | June 26, 2012 5:13 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:31 p.m.

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While the total number of sockeye hit a record high of 38,756, the Snake River sockeye listed under the Endangered Species Act are still just hanging on at a projected 1,900 fish.

While the total number of sockeye hit a record high of 38,756, the Snake River sockeye listed under the Endangered Species Act are still just hanging on at a projected 1,900 fish.

The daily sockeye count at Bonneville Dam hit an all-time high of 38,756 fish on Monday.

That beats the previous daily record of 30,690 sockeye crossing the dam in 2010, according to Fish Passage Center data.

Weighing in at an average of 4 to 5 pounds, sockeye are the smallest salmon in the Columbia River. Their population tends to boom and bust in four-year cycles, according to fish biologist Stuart Ellis, so he isn't expecting next year's run to be as big as it is this year.

Weighing in at an average of 4 to 5 pounds, sockeye are the smallest salmon in the Columbia River. Their population tends to boom and bust in four-year cycles, according to fish biologist Stuart Ellis, so he isn't expecting next year's run to be as big as it is this year.

Fishery managers predicted a large run of 460,000 sockeye in the Columbia River this year. But according to Stuart Ellis, a fish biologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, with a daily count as high as yesterday’s the run could wind up being closer to half a million fish.

Ellis said most of those fish are on their way to Canada’s Okanagan Basin and have likely benefitted from habitat improvement, water flows and hatchery programs in the upper Columbia River basin.

Habitat and passage improvements elsewhere in the Columbia Basin – in the Yakima and Deschutes rivers – have also helped overall sockeye numbers, he said.

Only one sockeye run in the Columbia is endangered – the Snake River sockeye. That run is improving, Ellis said, but it’s still projected to be just 1,900 fish, a very small fraction of this year’s run.

“This certainly doesn’t mean that we’ve recovered many of the wild runs to the levels that we want them to be at,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. But it builds everyone’s optimism that we can build these runs back up.”

In 1998, only 13,00 sockeye crossed Bonneville Dam in a year, Ellis noted. This year the daily counts have beat that number numerous times.

“So, that increases everyone’s optimism that if we do the right things, we can build up the Snake River population as well,” he said. “To a smaller degree, we’ve actually made some pretty good progress with Snake River restoration in building that run up from next to nothing. The wild sockeye in the Snake River are in a much better position than they have been. It was just recently that the run was on track to reach 1,000 or better. So, in anyone’s estimation it’s still critically low abundance. It’s still something everyone’s concerned about.”

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