Idaho fish managers: More hatchery salmon expected

Idaho Falls, Idaho (AP) – State fish managers expect nearly double the number of hatchery Chinook salmon to cross the Lower Granite Dam and enter Idaho this spring.

Peter Hassemer, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said his agency predicts about 83,000 of the hatchery fish will cross the dam this year, compared to about 46,000 last year. The increase is partly because of a larger number of smolts released from hatcheries last year and good migrating conditions, Hassemer said.

Steelhead runs are expected to stay stable at about 200,000 fish, as they have for the last few years, said Hassemer.

"For steelhead anglers this spring, in the upper salmon tributary areas there should a be a lot of fish in the water,'' he said. "Anglers should expect good fishing.''

Roughly 25 percent of the steelhead run will likely be wild fish, Hassemer told the Post Register. That's a slight increase from last year's crop.

From a purely fishing perspective, there's not much difference between the two types of fish – hatchery fish don't fight or bite harder, said Rollin Towler with Jimmy's All-Seasons Angler in Idaho Falls.

Still, Towler said, he'd "rather see more native fish, just because I'd like to see them healthy.''

Pete Rand, conservation biologist for the Wild Salmon Center in Portland, Ore., would also like to see stronger numbers of wild anadromous fish. Many researchers believe that hatchery fish exhibit less genetic diversity than wild fish of the same species, Rand noted, and that lack of diversity can leave hatchery fish ill-equipped to adapt to environmental changes.

Anglers can tell the difference between hatchery and wild fish by checking for a small adipose fin near the tail – wild fish have the fin, but hatchery workers remove steelheads' adipose fins before they are released into the river.

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