From Catastrophe to Recovery: Stories of Fishery Management Success

Snake River Sockeye Salmon—A Perspective on Twenty-Five Years of Effort to Recover a Population in Central Idaho, USA

Paul A. Kline, Thomas A. Flagg, Christine C. Kozfkay, Danny J. Baker, Desmond J. Maynard, and William C. McAuley


Abstract.—In November 1991, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service listed Snake River Sockeye Salmon Oncorhynchus nerka as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The last remnants of the Snake River stock return to Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth Valley in central Idaho, a 1,448-km freshwater migration through the Columbia, Snake, and Salmon rivers. In May 1991, about 6 months prior to formal listing, a decision was made by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to collect Redfish Lake out-migrating Sockeye Salmon smolts and to retain any anadromous adults that returned to begin the Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Program (hereafter, “Program”). In the ensuing 25 years, many actions have been taken to conserve the Redfish Lake population and to rebuild the wild, natural spawning fish. These include captive broodstock gene-rescue technologies for Sockeye Salmon, carrying-capacity evaluations, and the development of reintroduction strategies. Overall, the Program has resulted in more than 40 published papers that helped advance the science for recovery of this species and provided general guidance applicable to recovery attempts for other species. The Program reduced extinction risk for Redfish Lake Sockeye Salmon by amplifying adult returns from 16 fish during the decade of the 1990s to more than 7,000 fish in 2017 and by retaining the majority of genetic diversity (>95%) of the founder population. In this chapter, we describe the actions taken for success and the myriad of legal and political processes we encountered and navigated during the 25-year history of the project. Nonscientific issues created challenges equally as formidable as biological challenges faced. Lessons learned include the importance of clearly stated goals and objectives being frequently communicated to decision makers, the necessity of science panels for review and advice, the establishment of effective fish culture and biosecurity protocols, the establishment of a partnership of scientists and stakeholders, and conducting monitoring and evaluation to interpret the success of Program actions and to adaptively manage Program efforts. Last, we learned the importance of becoming engaged and vigilant over the legal, policy, and funding frameworks required for the Program to remain successful.