Spawning sockeye

Two sockeye are seen in Cooper River above Lake Cle Elum on Wednesday, where a record number of fish are expected to spawn this year. Photo courtesy of the Department of Ecology. 

YAKIMA, Wash. -- About 14,000 sockeye salmon are expected to spawn in Lake Cle Elum this fall, according to the Yakama Nation Fisheries Program, a record since the tribe’s reintroduction effort began in 2009.

“It’s exciting,” said Dave Fast, senior scientist for the Yakama Nation. “They migrate up the rivers (above the lake) to spawn, and more than we thought are spawning along the lake shore as well.”

Sockeye are native to the region, but dams built to provide irrigation water blocked access to the lake and tributary habitat where they spawn and the young fish rear.

The reintroduction involves collecting a small portion of the sockeye destined for other lakes on the Upper Columbia River and hauling them to the reservoir known as Lake Cle Elum. This year, the tribe brought in about 10,000, Fast said.

They’ll spawn with more than 3,800 fish that swam up the Yakima River as far as they could go — Roza Dam in the Yakima River Canyon — before being trucked to the reservoir.

Those fish, who are returning to the area where they hatched, are themselves descendants of Upper Columbia River sockeye the tribe trucked in several years ago.

This year’s native run in the Yakima River is well above the previous record of 2,576 sockeye that returned up the Yakima in 2014. And it’s far better than last year, when hot water killed the vast majority of the sockeye run in the Columbia River and just a few hundred made it up the Yakima River, Fast said.

The sockeye usually spawn in two waves, one in mid-September and another in early October, Fast said, depending on whether the fish are descendant from the Lake Wenatchee or Lake Osoyoos populations.

Someday, sockeye may be able to return to the Cle Elum reservoir without the trucking program. Efforts are underway to build a fish passage at Cle Elum Dam as part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

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