Snake River Fall Chinook Recovery Plan


November 2, 2015



Michael Milstein, NOAA Fisheries



Draft recovery plan charts path for rebuilding Snake River fall chinook salmon

NOAA Fisheries today released a proposed recovery plan for Snake River fall Chinook salmon, outlining a blueprint for rebuilding the threatened fish.  The fish declined after dams in Hells Canyon blocked much of their historic habitat but have since begun to stage a comeback.

The recovery plan includes a series of potential options for recovering fall Chinook and is now open to public comment for 60 days. NOAA Fisheries will consider comments and develop a final recovery plan for release in 2016.

The plan is available online at and NOAA Fisheries will accept comments through Jan. 4, 2016. Comments can be submitted by mail, fax or sent by email to

Snake River fall Chinook are considered an evolutionarily significant unit, or ESU, of fall Chinook salmon known for spawning in the wide mainstem of the Snake River and several of its major tributaries. At one time close to a half million of the fish returned to the Snake River every year, spawning throughout a 600-mile stretch of the river from Shoshone Falls (near Twin Falls, Idaho) downstream.

Historically, Snake River fall Chinook occurred in two main populations, one above Hells Canyon and one below.   Overharvest, dam construction, habitat loss and other factors led to declines and NOAA Fisheries listed the fish as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992.

The construction of dams in Hells Canyon restricted remaining Snake River fall Chinook to the roughly 20 percent of their historic spawning habitat that remained below the dams. Fall Chinook numbers have rebounded, with many more fall Chinook now returning to the Snake River than in the 1990s.  At least 50,000 hatchery and natural-origin adults have returned annually in recent years.

“Salmon recovery is a community effort that takes good science and a regional commitment,” said Will Stelle, West Coast Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries. “The improvements we’ve seen in Snake River fall Chinook in recent years demonstrate the strength of that commitment, and the recovery plan provides a guide to carry that through to full recovery of the species.”

The recovery plan outlines actions designed to further rebuild the fall Chinook ESU to the point it can sustain itself on its own. NOAA Fisheries developed the recovery plan in collaboration with state, tribal and federal biologists and other stakeholders.

The plan describes scenarios for recovering Snake River fall Chinook with either the one existing population, or by also reestablishing the second, Middle Snake population that occurred historically. Establishing a second population would require some form of fish passage at the dams in Hells Canyon. While recovery is very possible with the one remaining population because it is well distributed over a large area, a second population would provide additional safeguards and increased resilience.

For more information on the recovery plan and how to submit comments, visit