New sockeye hatchery can't recover wild salmon

BOISE — The Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s new $13.5 million sockeye salmon hatchery may be necessary in the short term, but much more work will be needed to restore Idaho’s iconic sockeye salmon, salmon advocates said today.

The Bonneville Power Administration and Fish and Game are scheduled to unveil the new hatchery in Springfield, Idaho at 11 a.m. Friday.

“Fish and Game scientists deserve an enormous amount of credit for rescuing sockeye from the brink of extinction over the past 20 years, but this new facility won’t recover sockeye,” said IRU salmon program manager Greg Stahl. “Recovery will only occur when sockeye start surviving at much higher rates after they leave Idaho en route to the Pacific. This new hatchery may be necessary now, but it won’t restore our sockeye by itself.”

IRU board member Tom Stuart pointed out that the Endangered Species Act requires a salmon management program that restores wild, natural-origin fish.

“Natural-origin fish in places like Redfish Lake are what matter most—not hatchery fish,” Stuart said. “Our focus really needs to be on improving salmon survival downriver where most of Idaho’s salmon die at dams and reservoirs on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers.”

Long term, sockeye salmon can only be restored and sustained in the wild by protecting Idaho’s abundant habitat and restoring the damaged migration corridor downstream. Hatcheries simply can’t do that.

“The bottleneck in salmon survival is created by too many dams on the Columbia and Snake,” Stuart said. “No matter how many baby salmon hatch in Redfish Lake, or how many more hatchery fish are released, too many still die because of the effects of downriver dams and reservoirs. We want to see real improvements in downriver survival. That’s the surest way to save both sockeye salmon and ratepayer money.”

In the short term, with all existing dams remaining in place, increased spill during the migration of baby salmon to the ocean appears to be the best way to improve salmon survival. 

“In the long term, removing four dams — four dams we can easily live without — is the best and least expensive answer, and the best path for Idaho’s sockeye salmon,” Stuart said.