Hatchery setback underscores fallacy of current approach to solving Idaho’s salmon crisis

This is yet further evidence that federal policy is failing Idaho fish and Idaho people.
— Kevin Lewis, IRU Executive Director

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game today acknowledged that sockeye salmon from its new $14 million Springfield Hatchery in southern Idaho are dying at difficult-to-explain rates.

In a press release issued today, Fish and Game biologists said their leading theory about why is because of a difference in water hardness between the hatchery and the natural lakes and streams in the upper Salmon River system. The additional stress of going from hard water to soft water may contribute to higher-than-expected mortality, Fish and Game said.

“Be that what it may, this multi-million-dollar setback underscores the glaring fallacy of trying to build our way out of the salmon problem,” said IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis. “Fish and Game biologists are to be commended for saving sockeye salmon from the brink of extinction, but increased focus on hatchery production is failing. Until we address main-stem survival we’re missing the biggest opportunity for these amazing fish.”

For the better part of 20 years the majority of scientists have pointed to four dams on the lower Snake River as the primary cause of salmon decline. Remove those high-cost, low-value dams and Snake River salmon will bounce back.

Even without this new hiccup, sockeye salmon have one of the poorest lifecycle survival rates of any of Idaho’s anadromous fish. Since dam construction on the lower Snake fewer than 1 percent of sockeye that leave Idaho return to Idaho. Until that number approaches 4 percent, sockeye salmon will still be in trouble.

Meanwhile, the federal government has spent $16 billion at a rate of about $1 billion per year on salmon recovery measures—like hatcheries and techno fixes at dams—that haven’t done enough for salmon.

“For the past 10 years Idaho has been sitting back and letting the federal government dictate salmon policy,” Lewis said. “This is yet further evidence that federal policy is failing Idaho fish and Idaho people. It’s time for Idaho to regain its unfettered voice for its fish and move toward meaningful salmon recovery.”

Banner photo by Neil Ever Osborne