Portland, Oregon – For the third year in a row, fall chinook returning to the Snake River have set a new record. Data released today by the Nez Perce Tribe shows that a new record of 9,345 redds, or gravel nests, were built by returning adults in the Snake River Basin between Lower Granite and Hells Canyon dams. The previous record was set in 2014 when 6,714 redds were counted. This new record coincides with the third highest adult Snake River fall chinook return (59,300) since the four lower Snake River dams were completed in 1975.
The Nez Perce Tribe, in coordination with co-managers from Washington Department of 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 success of the Snake River fall chinook program is the direct result of efforts to supplement existing Snake River fall chinook with biologically appropriate hatchery-reared fish. The program was started in 1994 as a result of legal actions by the tribes under US v. Oregon. The Nez Perce Tribe annually releases 450,000 yearling fall chinook and 2.8 million sub-yearling fall chinook from tribal facilities as part of an overall program that releases 5 million fish back into 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 are key to increasing natural-origin returns.
“The continued success of the Snake River fall chinook returns over the past 5 years strengthens the argument for carefully managed hatcheries as a tool in salmon recovery,” said Anthony Johnson, Chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. “This program highlights the success of salmon restoration programs and demonstrates our potential when we focus on rebuilding abundance.”
Adult fall chinook salmon returns to Lower Granite Dam have increased from fewer than 1,000 adults to Lower Granite Dam annually from 1975-1995 to record counts of 56,565 adults in 2013 and 60,868 in 2014. These returns include record numbers of natural-origin fish returning to the spawning grounds, including 21,142 wild fish in 2013, 14,172 in 2014 and a preliminary estimate 16,212 in 2015. This equals approximately 28 percent of the 2015 return to the area.
The continued increase in returns of Snake River fall chinook allowed co-managers to open a fall chinook fishery in the Snake River in 2009. This was the first fall chinook fishery on the Snake River in 35 years and the fishery has occurred each year since.
“The success of the Snake River fall chinook is something this region can really be proud of,” said Paul Lumley, Executive Director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Over the last 20 years, we’ve moved from the courtroom to supporting fisheries while putting a substantial number of retuning adults on the spawning grounds. This type of program should be replicated throughout the Columbia River Basin, not limited.”