For migrating Sockeye salmon, the threat of extinction looms. So researchers are making every effort to replenish the species, with the hopes that one day the salmon will be able to sustain themselves. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
Decades ago, Sockeye salmon migrated to the ocean from at least five different lakes in Idaho. Today, due largely to a series of dams built along the migration routes, only one of these runs remains- beginning at Redfish Lake in northern Idaho. But the number of migrating Sockeye who return to Redfish Lake has become perilously low. And so, each fall, researchers breed salmon in hatcheries, to be released the following year.
“Today we are releasing approximately 80,000 Sockeye to two lakes. These fish will remain in both lakes over winter and outmigrate, hopefully, this coming May on their way to the ocean. Spend about two years in the ocean and hopefully return to Idaho.”
Paul Kline is a research biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. He tells us that although scientists will continue to breed Sockeye in Idaho hatcheries, they hope that eventually, the migration will be able to sustain itself.
“Our agency would like to recover these fish to the point where people could experience a limited harvest again, like it used to be. I think almost every day about how close we are to extinction, but I also think about what good shape we will be in when migratory survival improves.”
With only a few fish making it back to Redfish Lake each year, scientists still aren’t sure that their breeding program will be enough to revive the Sockeye migration. Some say that until the rivers are restored to their natural state, migrating salmon will continue to suffer.
Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.