Portland, Oregon – Tribal leaders are ecstatic over the record number of salmon spawning in the Snake River Basin in 2013, fortified by a record number of wild fall chinook that passed Lower Granite Dam. Data released recently by tribal, federal, state, and hydropower industry biologists show that last year’s Snake River fall chinook run included the highest number of wild fish to return since the completion of Ice Harbor Dam in 1960. The spawning efforts of the run also resulted in a record number of redds, the nests where fish spawn, in both the Snake and Clearwater river basins.
The multi-agency run reconstruction of fish returning to Lower Granite Dam revealed 21,000 wild fall chinook returned to the Snake River in 2013, accounting for 37.5% of the total Snake River fall chinook return of 56,000 fish. Over 6,300 redds were created in the Snake River and its tributaries between Lower Granite and Hells Canyon dams. The increase in Snake River returns and the increased distribution in redds were aided by tribal programs that supplement existing Snake River fall chinook populations.
“The Nez Perce Tribe’s Snake River recovery program has resulted in fall chinook returns that the region can truly celebrate,” said Joel Moffett, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and member of the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Committee. “Despite returning to a river noted for hot temperatures and poor passage conditions, these resilient fish were able to spawn in numbers not witnessed in many, many years. This year’s run gives us hope for the future, but we still have a long way to go. We must continue to do everything we can to ensure the fish runs continue on this path toward a healthy, self-sustaining population capable of supporting well-managed tribal and non-tribal fisheries. Doing so will ensure the success of this run is repeated in years to come.”
The increased returns are the result of a Nez Perce tribal initiative to supplement existing Snake River fall chinook with biologically appropriate hatchery-reared fish to increase naturally spawning runs. Started in 1995, the Bonneville Power Administration agreed to fund this program that relied on a technique that was controversial at the time. The program now enjoys broad regional support for supplementation from numerous federal and state agencies.
The Nez Perce Tribe annually releases 450,000 yearling fall chinook and 2.8 million sub-yearling fall chinook as part of a broader program that releases 5 million juvenile 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 but more importantly, they have increased the number of wild fish returning to the Snake River, since most of the outplanted fish spawn naturally, producing wild offspring.
Adult fall chinook salmon returns have increased from 78 wild adults passing Lower Granite Dam in 1990 to a record count of 21,000 wild adults. The higher returns of Snake River fall chinook in recent years allowed fisheries 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.
“Abundance is a key to success in the Columbia Basin. The Nez Perce Tribe has shown the Columbia Basin that we can rebuild salmon runs with the assistance of hatcheries,” said Paul Lumley, executive director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “We are anticipating a lot of fall chinook returning to the Columbia River this year. For anyone wondering why, the answer lies with tribal programs like the Nez Perce Tribe’s Snake River Fall Chinook Program. It is as simple as putting fish back in the rivers and protecting the watersheds where fish live.”