Sockeye recovery plan fails to address main-stem survival

We’ve come a long way since this fish, Lonesome Larry, was the only sockeye salmon to return to Idaho in 1992. But release of a federal sockeye recovery plan today shows how very far we still have to go to recover sockeye. The plan places a huge emphasis on hatchery production and sets a 50- to 100-year recovery time frame while essentially ignoring the lethal impacts of dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers. (Photo by Greg Stahl)

A federal sockeye salmon recovery plan released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration places too much long-term dependence on hatchery operations rather than in-river survival improvements needed for species recovery.

“Recovery and removal from the Endangered Species Act is about natural or wild fish, and this plan completely and unequivocally fails to address their needs,” said IRU Board member Tom Stuart, who has carefully followed the recovery planning process. “The plan incorporates a federal biological opinion that was ruled illegal in August 2011, and it places a huge emphasis on hatchery production to make up for its shortcomings on main-stem survival.”

The plan aims to recover sockeye salmon in 50 to 100 years.

“The American people deserve better from federal agencies than using illegal Biological Opinions as part of a new plan that gives the illusion of sockeye recovery in 50 to 100 years,” Stuart said.

IRU Salmon Program Manager Greg Stahl said the best measure of salmon health is a lifecycle survival rate, known as a smolt to adult survival rate (SAR). SARs of 2 to 6 percent are needed to maintain or recover the species, far more than the current SAR for upper Salmon River sockeye of about 0.5 percent.

“The plan ignores lifecycle return rates for sockeye, and this is also one of the failures of the illegal BiOp that’s incorporated by reference in the document released today,” Stahl said. “Sockeye cannot be recovered without improving their main-stem survival, and the only way to do that is to remove dams on the lower Snake River or, in the meantime, increase spill at dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.”

Stahl said the work to prevent extinction of sockeye salmon has been remarkable and worthy of commendation. However, a continued strong emphasis on hatcheries working toward long-term recovery cannot and will not to solve the problem for Idaho’s most endangered and iconic salmon.

To read NOAA’s sockeye recovery plan, go to: