South Kitsap Hatchery Helping
by Ed Friedrich
SOUTH KITSAP -- Burley Creek has a salmon hatchery, but no fish reared at the facility will ever swim there.
They're bound for Idaho's Redfish Lake, where 20 years ago you could count the sockeye salmon run on one hand. Now, spawning fish are returning by the hundreds, aided by the Burley Creek Hatchery and the associated Manchester Research Station.
Snake River sockeye were declared endangered in 1991 after only four made their way 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean, through eight dams, to Redfish Lake.
National Marine Fisheries Service launched an emergency broodstock program at its Montlake facility that year, then moved in 1993 to Manchester Research Station and a hatchery at Big Beef Creek, which was replaced by Burley Creek Hatchery in 2001.
Burley and Manchester mimic the sockeye's natural life cycle, described Desmond Maynard, hatchery technology team leader, and Tom Flagg, salmon enhancement program manager, at Manchester. The process is like zoos that restore populations of nearly extinct animals in captivity and reintroduce them to the wild.
Snake River sockeye spawn naturally in the Redfish and other Sawtooth Valley lakes. Their eggs hatch and the young fish, known as fry, spend their first 15 months or more there. These early stages are replicated at Burley, which receives fertilized eggs from an Idaho hatchery.
Then, the 6- to 10-inch fish, called smolts, migrate to the ocean and spend a couple years there. Here, they're trucked to saltwater tanks at Manchester. Mature 3- to 4-year old sockeye weighing 5 to 15 pounds then swim up the Columbia and Snake rivers to spawn at Redfish Lake. Here, they're hauled back to Burley's freshwater to lay their eggs, which are fertilized and sent to an Oregon hatchery and raised to smolt stage. They're released at a Redfish Lake outlet to migrate to the Pacific and eventually return all on their own to spawn.
The hatchery along Bethel-Burley Road has no connection to Burley Creek except it's within hollering distance and discharges treated water into the stream. Now, after two decades, its mission is changing from genetic rescue -- saving the species -- to reintroducing the sockeye back to their habitat and rebuilding the population.
Burley will more than triple the 135,000 eggs it's producing, which will require more water being released into Burley Creek. An environmental review is being conducted for a larger drainage channel.
"We're helping them reach their goal of a million juveniles going out of that (Idaho) facility by supplying half a million of those eggs," Flagg said, adding that locals are just assisting the main players -- Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and Bonneville Power Administration, which foots the bill.
In the entire decade of the 1990s, 16 Snake River sockeye returned to Redfish Lake. The last three or four years, up to 1,300 have come back.
"We've seen numbers unprecedented since the 1950s," Flagg said. "We're truly bringing fish back to the population. It takes a long time to fully establish fish in the habitat, but we've clearly taken steps in the right direction."
Recovery goals have been published as 1,000 natural spawners in Redfish Lake and 500 each in Pettit and Alturas lakes, but Flagg said they haven't been confirmed by NOAA.
If things go "really right," the Burley/Manchester work could be done between 2018 and 2023, Flagg said.
Bluefish.org offers $1000 Reward to anyone who can reveal how the federal plan will recover Idaho's Sockeye Salmon.
Count the Fish Returning Adult Sockeye counts from Lower Granite Dam and in the Stanley Basin.
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