BOISE, Idaho — The first sockeye salmon of 2019 returned to central Idaho last week signaling what could be the worst return in a decade.

The sockeye was discovered at the Redfish Lake Creek trap near Stanley on Aug. 2, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. That’s about a week later than the first fish returned in 2017 and 2018.

The fish is among the 53 sockeye that have crossed Lower Granite Dam near Lewiston (through Aug. 1), which is the last dam the fish cross before reaching Idaho.

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Biologists say the 2019 sockeye run through Lower Granite is well below last year’s total of 276 fish, as well as the 2017 total of 228 fish, which was the lowest return in a decade. It appears that returns in 2019 will be even lower.

It's a long and treacherous 900-mile migration Idaho sockeye must complete from the Pacific Ocean that includes crossing eight dams and climbing 6,500-feet elevation to reach the Sawtooth Basin.

State and federal officials started a hatchery program in the 1990s when the fish teetered on the brink of extinction.

When Idaho sockeye were listed in 1991 under the federal Endangered Species Act, only four adult sockeye returned to the Stanley Basin. The combined annual returns from 1991-99 was 23 fish, including two years when no sockeye returned to Idaho. Between 1996 and 2007, annual sockeye returns over Lower Granite averaged 52 fish. Since 2008, sockeye returns over Lower Granite have averaged 1,115 fish with an annual range of 228 to a high of 2,786 in 2014.

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