Idaho Fish and Game forecasting the largest salmon returns in years

Great news! Will it pan out?

Fish and Game forecasting the largest salmon returns in years. In other news, F&G will issue fewer moose tags and mountain goat permits in 2009 and 2010. By Roger Phillips. Idaho Statesman.

More money and more political battling have been used to restore salmon (and steelhead) than any other endangered species.






  1. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Good for Idaho Fish and Game. This is the same agency, though, that gave mercury-tainted lake trout caught in north Idaho lakes to food banks for distribution to underprivileged families:

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for pointing this out, Matt. I had meant to post this article but didn’t get around to it.

    Why are Idaho fish tainted by mercury? Ask Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate, Nevada’s Harry Reid about the Nevada (foreign-owned) gold mines.

  3. Layton Avatar


    Could I point out something here concerning mercury in Idaho waters??

    I was raised here, and I’ve been around a long time now. I remember mercury “scares” many years BEFORE the mines in Nevada became a reality. (hell, face it, we even played with “quick silver” in high school physics classes!)

    I’m NOT saying that they (the mines in Nevada) don’t contribute, but the creeks and rivers, in southwest Idaho at any rate, have been high in mercury content since I was a puppy. When Brownlee Res. was first impounded (1967? or thereabouts) there were big writeups in the local papers about mercury content in fish.

    Mercury was mined in those areas clear back in the mid 1800’s, I believe it was used in the sluice boxes and dredges that were booming in places like Warren, Idaho City and Atlanta.

    My point is — the “mercury in fish” problem has been around for a long time in Idaho — in some cases a long time before open pit mines in Nevada were even thought of.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks Layton,

    You are certainly right about mercury contamination as nothing new in Idaho and for the reasons stated. There was also the big cement plants in Eastern Oregon not far from Brownlee.

    Unfortunately now the contamination is more general, and it covers much of Utah where I grew up and learned to fish.

  5. Ken Cole Avatar

    One of the main things missing in this story is that most of the returning salmon are now hatchery salmon while the wild, ESA protected salmon are declining in numbers over the years.

    During my several years of working at the salmon weir on the South Fork of the Salmon River it was pretty evident that many of the “wild” fish were actually either progeny of hatchery fish that managed to spawn in the wild or fish that didn’t get correctly clipped adipose fins. PIT tag results showed that many of the fish passed above the weir were actually hatchery fish that didn’t get the fin removed.

    At the same time runs of wild fish in the Middle Fork of the Salmon remained at low levels with the occasional bump in numbers when ocean conditions or downstream migration conditions were good.

    Another threat that isn’t talked about much anymore is nitrogen burns. Nitrogen burns are caused by super saturated nitrogen below the dams in deep water. When the salmon moves to shallower water the nitrogen in their blood expands and causes big blisters on their head and bodies. There were a couple of years when the nitrogen burns were so bad and the water temperatures so high that 40% of the wild adult salmon died after they made it all the way to the spawning grounds on the South Fork Salmon. They died because the nitrogen burns became infected with fungus and the water temperatures got to 70° F.

    In 2002 I personally processed 700 pre-spawn mortalities with 300 more processed by others and an unknown number taken by bears. This , minus the bear eaten fish, was 40% of the number released above the weir. That year had an unusual number of 5-year-old fish which were huge. That age class was hit the hardest with 4-year-olds and jacks (or 3-year-old males) suffering less. Females suffered more than males too. I think this has much to do with their surface area to body weight ratio with females having less due to their shape when full of eggs and bigger fish having less because of their size. Less oxygen.

  6. Salle Avatar

    In some reports this morning they report that one of the high number factors is a high number of “jacks” returning this year. The reports that I heard defined “jacks” as males returning after one year out to sea.

    I suppose that a good number of the hatchery fish lack the “fin clip” due to that ruling, a couple years ago, that allowed hatchery fish to be included in official counts as “wild” to increase population size in order to reduce need for protections. So what ever happened there?

    Do you have any info to offer on that, Ken?

  7. Ken Cole Avatar

    Yes, jacks are 3 year old males. All of the Idaho spring and summer Chinook spend about 2 years in the river and jacks spend one year in the ocean. It is a very rare occurrence to see females that spend only one year in the ocean. They call them jills and I only saw one that I thought could be one but I was unable to confirm whether it was just a really small 4-year-old or a jill. You can get males and females that spend 2 or 3 years and very occasionally 4 years (I only heard about one) but most spend 2 years.

    Actually the fin clipping has been automated and is quite reliable now.

    When it was being done by hand someone hired as a temporary to clip at one of the hatcheries decided to make more “wild” fish by grabbing nets and nets of fish and throw them back into the raceway unclipped. That person was fired but nothing else was done because it is a very expensive process.

    That ruling doesn’t really affect how Snake River salmon are managed because there are several different runs and IDFG tries to keep the wild and hatchery fish separated. On the South Fork they installed a new weir that won’t let any fish pass without going through the trap. Previously fish could squeeze through pickets and occasionally I saw fish jump right over the thing. Now with the better weir and the better clipping technology there are fewer mistakes in identifying wild and hatchery fish.

  8. Layton Avatar

    I’m not sure where this “automated” fin clipping takes place, haven’t heard of it.

    I do however know several people that have been employed the last couple of summers at some of the hatcheries, Rapid River being one of them.

    According to these people there are a specific number of hatchery fish that are deliberately NOT clipped. This is done as part of the program to get more spawners back into the streams when the fish return.

    Then there are the horror stories about the Indian hatchery operations, but who knows where to separate fact from fiction on that deal??

  9. Salle Avatar

    Thanks Ken, I knew you had better info on that than I do.

    One question though. I recall hearing that some federal agency was threatening to include the hatchery populations to the counts of the wild population count in order to claim some sort of recovery or improvement in numbers to remove protections or alter some classifications. So what was up with that, and what ever happened?

  10. Ken Cole Avatar


    Each hatchery has a different program for marking fish. Rapid River clips all of their fish because they are all progeny of salmon taken from the Snake River and not protected under the ESA. Also, in the case of Rapid River there is a big trailer that is hauled there every year which takes a picture of the fish, clips the fin, then takes another picture of the fish and either rejects the fish and it is sent to another trailer to be hand clipped or it is placed the raceway to be released later.

    At the McCall hatchery some fish are not clipped because of their origination. The Nez Perce Tribe raises fish there that came from Johnson Creek and are protected under the ESA and are fin clipped. There also used to be a program where IDFG took wild fish from the SF trap and raised them in a hatchery for the supplementation program. Those fish had, in the later years, a coded wire tag placed in their snout, or had one of their pelvic fins clipped off. They did not receive an adipose fin clip and the supplementation program has stopped.

    Pahsimeroi, Sawtooth, Clearwater, and Dworshak all have different marking criteria and some fish are left unmarked to be planted in streams to meet tribal treaty rights. The Yankee Fork steelhead run is such a case. There are thousands of fish stocked there that are obviously hatchery fish because steelhead tend to have worn fins from a hatchery setting but these are adipose fin clipped so that the Sho-Ban tribe has a fishery. This is required by the U.S. v Oregon Case.

    I heard the rumors you talk about all the time but they are not true. I think that many of the people hired were not familiar with all of the programs IDFG had and didn’t understand exactly what was happening. I can say that there is always a percentage of hatchery fish that don’t get clipped due to either human error or machine error and there are also fish that regenerate their fins.

    Since I have handled literally 10’s of thousands of Chinook and steelhead I know what to look for in determining whether it’s a hatchery or wild fish depending on whether there was an attempt made. Sometimes you can’t tell so you err on the side of caution and call it a wild fish.

    That being said, unless there is deliberate human error as with the case of the individual who dumped fish out of the trailers without clipping them, the percentage of fish that are not clipped has been reduced significantly since the automated trailers came on line.

    I know a thing or two about the program since I worked in it for 8 years. Also, as you may have noticed, I’m not big on defending the IDFG.

    We can debate the merits of hatchery versus wild fish later but I would rather see wild fish.


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Ralph Maughan