Underwriting provided by:
OI Conversations: Mike Peterson, Senior Fisheries Manager, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Mike Peterson is a senior fisheries manager for Idaho Fish and Game. He is the sockeye research biologist for Redfish Lake. He was also one of the first Aaron Kunz spoke to about the salmon program in Idaho. Peterson provided a lot of insight about the sockeye program and was instrumental in allowing us to shoot footage of salmon in the Sawtooth basin. This interview was done in August 2011.
Kunz: Explain the work that you have been doing here near Stanley.
Kunz: How many do you expect to return this year? (2011)
Kunz: I understand there is confusion whether this has been a recovery project or conservation project.
One of the things that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has tried to do is develop a smolt hatchery for sockeye salmon. One of the things that we have learned over the past few years is that if we release smolt size fish as one of our release strategies. Those fish do really well at going to the ocean and coming back. That explains a lot of the adult returns since 2008. So we are in the process of building a smolt hatchery that will rear up to a million smolts a year.
When we release those smolts we should see anywhere between five thousand to ten thousand adults return each year. And so that's how we're going to transition towards a recovery project.
One of the other things that we've learned is that - the fish that we put in the lake that spawn naturally. Even though it's a smaller number of fish. Those fish go the ocean and return at higher survival rates than some of our other release strategies.
Kunz: What is the impact of salmon on the place Idaho.
Just on observations on the lake alone. When I started with the project five years ago - you'd be lucky to see an eagle on the lake in November. And I think last fall we saw ten to fifteen birds each time we went out in the fall. So these animals are able to find the food source when it's available and after some lean years in the 90's - for many reasons salmon are beginning to become a little more abundant in the basin and we're seeing some response to some of those other animals, the predators.
Kunz: Describe Sockeye salmon and the journey they make as adults back to Idaho from the ocean.
There was a time when every fish caught at these traps were taken to Eagle. That's not the case anymore, some fish you actually allow to return to Redfish Lake on their own.
We feel like we've done a really good job of conserving the genetics that are available in a population. We know that a majority of these fish that are coming back are from a smolt release group. We'll do a genetic workup and we'll determine if we go a thousand fish back, we'd keep a hundred of those fish to incorporate into our brood stock program. And so the other 900 would come back into the basin and be released into Redfish Lake to spawn naturally. How we determine whether the fish is kept is based on genetic evaluation that we do and we always keep the least related individuals to the rest of the brood stock.
Currently this is a closed population so that there is no new genetics coming into it and until we get significant numbers...increase in numbers we are not likely to see much change in the genetic. When we start putting adults into the lake, they are going to mate randomly and we may see some changes in the genetics based on those observations and those crosses that occur in the lake.
Kunz: Based on the numbers, it might be easy to say success. But is it too early to start celebrating?