Native Salmonid Enthusiasm; Retrospection and Consideration

Of course, this is the time of the year that many folks start thinking about resolutions for the New Year; and arm chair quarterbacks are found talking about strategic game plans that their favorite teams should put in place for upcoming bowl games.

And so, why would anyone think it unusual for native trout enthusiasts to become “arm chair biologists” by putting their heads together to review, discuss and contemplate game plans for Alvord trout phenotype preservation in the next year . . . and for years to come?

So often the information shared among native trout enthusiasts, and discussions emanating from those shared realizations, has resulted in positive suggestions – or strategies – for the preservation of a given species, or strain, or for habitat improvement and preservation.


There are extraordinarily unique methods that have been being utilized by the Idaho State Fish and Wildlife in preserving and bringing back the unique genetic strain of Sockeye salmon native to Redfish Lake Idaho.  And, to this author, it seems there are similarities between the plight of the Redfish Lake Sockeye Salmon and Alvord Trout (far beyond the fact that both are recognized as “red” fish in their spawning colors).

How the “redfish” of an alpine lake in central Idaho are slowly, but effectively, being restored — is something to take note of.

Biologists took the few returning sockeye salmon of Redfish Lake into captivity to become a “gene rescue captive broodstock program.” “To avoid the risk of catastrophic loss redundant captive broodstocks were established . . .”

This effort was a “gene rescue.”  And “redundant captive broodstocks” were used to avoid the risk of catastrophic loss!  As passionate arm chair biologists, we would propose that at least a few – perhaps “the best of the best” – of the eighty or so Alvord Phenotype Trout currently housed at the Ft. Klamath hatchery, should be set aside as a “redundant captive broodstock” — to help assure the preservation of the Alvord cutthroat trout phenotype.

(Perhaps it would be ideal to also obtain other good phenotypes, if possible, to add genetic material to the captive broodstock pool.)


Let’s ponder a few excerpts from NOAA’s Northwest Fishery Science Center article entitled Redfish Lake Sockeye Salmon Captive Broodstock.  (Some of the measures are more than might be expected in behalf of the Alvord cutthroat trout phenotypes found in SE Oregon; but there may be comparisons and lessons to be drawn from these endeavors.)

“The Redfish Lake sockeye salmon were virtually on the brink of extinction in the early 1990s.  Based on probable extinction scenarios, all of the 16 anadromous adults (11 males and 5 females) were taken into a gene rescue captive broodstock program.  To avoid the risk of catastrophic loss, redundant captive broodstocks were established: one at the IDFG Eagle Hatchery near Boise, ID and one at the NWFSC Manchester Research Station.  Fish rearing at each facility is conducted at low density in tanks in bio-secure buildings.”

“Egg survival to the eyed-stage of development has improved greatly and now often averages greater than 80%. Fry-to-maturation survival for captive broodstocks is now routinely in the 80% range, and size and body conformation of fish is often equivalent to the wild progenitors. The genetic focus of the program and adherence to various central tenets of conservation aquaculture has enabled program managers to retain approximately 95% of the original founding genetic variability of the population.”

“ . . . The combined NOAA Fisheries/IDFG Redfish Lake sockeye captive broodstock efforts have produced over 3.8 million eggs and fish for reintroduction to Sawtooth Valley lakes and tributary streams. Of these, 1,592,623 were released as pre-smolts, 1,119,337 released as smolts, 1,108,256 planted as eyed-eggs in egg boxes, and 8,021 released as pre-spawning adults. Since the first program-produced fish started returning in 1999, almost 4,300 adults have returned to collection sites in the Sawtooth Valley; over 250 times the number that returned from wild spawners during the entire decade of the 1990s. Without the steps undertaken by the Redfish Lake sockeye gene rescue program, this ESA-listed endangered stock might currently be extinct, just as it seems a virtual certainty that the steps described above have put the population onto the road to recovery.”

Before we continue with the narrative, let’s consider how utterly dire the situation for the Redfish Lake Sockeye salmon was.  In 2003 and 2006 there were just THREE salmon that returned to a combination of the Lake and/or the hatchery facilities. There were years that there could not have been a natural spawning event because the fish that returned to given locations were of the same sex.  NO MATES to spawn with.  Only a venue for extinction.

Redfish Lake Sockeye Returns 1999-2010In 2007 only FOUR salmon returned in the aggregate of the lake and hatchery . . . Without critical intervention it was implicit that Redfish Lake Sockeye salmon would cease to exist.


Idaho Fish and Wildlife states that “the program releases eggs and fish back to the habitat in a variety of ways.  Eyed-eggs are planted in egg boxes and placed in lakes in the fall, presmolts are released directly to lakes in the fall, smolts are released to outlet streams in the spring, and prespawn adults are released to lakes in the fall.  A monitoring and evaluation effort is in place to document the success of different reintroduction strategies.”

Partners in the sockeye recovery effort include the States of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, NOAA-Fisheries, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.  Another hatchery launch of September 6, 2013 will allow for one million additional juvenile sockeye salmon to be released annually.


Yet, perhaps, the most extraordinary aspect to this story is not the volume of fish now being produced, or the fact that thousands of Redfish Lake Sockeye salmon have recently been returning to Redfish Lake and to the hatchery facilities – even through the maze of dams on the Columbia River system.

To us, it clearly seems that the most extraordinary aspect to this story is the degree of amazing science that was applied in order to prevent the Redfish Lake Sockeye salmon from disappearing into the annals of extinction.

In 1992 (eight years before the above chart begins), again, only FOUR Redfish Lake Sockeye salmon made the 900 mile freshwater trek from the ocean to the central Idaho mountains.

One male completed the final climb up the Snake and Salmon rivers to a weir on Redfish Lake Creek on Aug. 4” “In the early 1990s, the futures of the system’s salmon and steelhead species looked grim after 150 years of overfishing, dam-building, habitat destruction and even poisoning.  The Snake River sockeye effort appeared especially quixotic.” (Unrealistic)

“Allyson Coonts, the 7-year-old daughter of Sawtooth Hatchery technician Phil Coonts, named the sockeye Lonesome Larry . . . Lonesome Larry became the symbol of the entire Snake and Columbia salmon-restoration program.”

Lonesome Larry“ . . . (B)ecause the salmon was a male, they were able to inject a hormone pellet into him after the first milking process so that he produced sperm for nearly a month.” Larry’s DNA was then cryogenically stored at the University of Idaho and Washington State University.

This allowed biologists to use Larry’s sperm on thousands of eggs in 1996–1997, spreading his genes through a population that is becoming more genetically diverse each generation.

About 6 percent of the Redfish sockeye population today has Lonesome Larry genes . . .


We would that a phenotype we knew as “Mr. Alvord” could have been used in this way . . .


And so, is evident that excellent outcomes can be accomplished when a group of agencies and individuals work together towards a singular goal.  How much easier could, or should, it be to “resurrect” 7 miles of streamside habitat?   What tremendous outcomes could, and should, be achieved for a small fading trout population in a small remote creek in Oregon?

© Kortum of Discovery, December 2014

About kortumofdiscovery

Kortum of Discovery (a slight play on Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery) is a family team that is Affirming the Exceptional Beauty of Nature, one Adventure at a Time. With a focus toward rare and endangered species in the Great Basin and American west: discoveries, unique methodologies, and many “tall tales to tell” are continually being shared around the campfire!
This entry was posted in Fisheries Biology and Genetics, Narratives, Observations, Photo Journals. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Native Salmonid Enthusiasm; Retrospection and Consideration

  1. Dan Line (cutthroat stalkers) says:

    Grateful for all your work and keeping us updated on the
    phenotype rescue. What is the latest from ODFW?

  2. Joe DiSilvestro says:

    I have enjoyed the monthliy narratives, but also know that they require a lot of time to research and write. There has not been a narrartive since the Dec. 2014 issue and as of April 25, 2015. I was wondering when the next one will be written.
    Thanks, Joe DiSilvestro PHX,AZ

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