Where did the Sockeye Go From The Klamath ?? Will they return without the dams ?

A population of anadromous sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) may have occurred historically above Iron Gate Dam.

Parties coming in from Keno state that the run of salmon in the Klamath River this year is the heaviest it has [sic] ever known. There are millions of the fish below the falls near Keno, and it is said that a man with a gaff could easily land a hundred of the salmon in an hour, in fact they could be caught as fast as a man could pull them in…There is a natural rock dam across the river below Keno, which it [sic] is almost impossible for the fish to get over. In their effort to do so thousands of fine salmon are so bruised and spotted by the rocks that they become worthless. There is no spawning ground until they reach the Upper Lake as the river at this point is very swift and rocky. —Front page article titled: “Millions of Salmon—Cannot Reach Lake on Account Rocks (sic) in River at Keno” Klamath Falls Evening Herald (24 September 1908)

Sockeye Salmon— There is some evidence that a run of sockeye salmon may have occurred in the Klamath River above the current location of Iron Gate Dam. The southernmost distribution of sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) in North America is recorded as the Klamath River (Jordan and Evermann 1896; Scott and Crossman 1973). Cobb (1930) reported that 20 sockeye were taken in the Klamath River in the autumn of 1915. Sockeye salmon require a lake for rearing. The only potential lake rearing habitat in the Klamath River system accessible to anadromous fish would have been Upper Klamath Lake, Lower Klamath Lake, or Buck Lake (in the upper reaches of Spencer Creek before being drained, Figure 1).

Figure 1.Extent of upstream distribution for anadromous fish in the Klamath River and tributaries based upon references in Table 1 (locations for citations are approximate).

Lower Klamath Lake was probably too shallow to provide suitable rearing habitat for sockeye salmon, but some authors (Fry 1973; Behnke 1987) believe that a small run of sockeye may have occurred to Upper Klamath Lake, until eliminated by dams. However, Snyder (1931) reported that no evidence substantiated the statement of Jordan and Evermann (1896) that sockeye salmon occur in the Klamath River, and Moyle (2002) stated that individual anadromous sockeye found in streams south of the Columbia system are probably non-spawning strays or kokanee (the landlocked form of sockeye) that went out to sea. At any rate, if anadromous sockeye were present historically, they have been extirpated. It is notable that kokanee salmon currently are observed in Upper Klamath Lake (Logan and Markle 1993), especially in springs on the west side of the lake (Bill Tinniswood, ODFW, pers. comm.). These are believed to be fish that have drifted downstream from the Four Mile Lake population, introduced in the 1950s or before (Bill Tinniswood, ODFW, pers. comm.; Roger Smith, ODFW, pers. comm.).


We found numerous sources of information regarding the occurrence of Chinook salmon, steelhead, coho salmon, and Pacific lamprey above the current location of Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River. We are not aware of any credible reports that these species did not migrate beyond this point. For Chinook salmon and steelhead, we found one report for each species stating there was not enough information to say definitively they migrated into the Klamath Upper Basin. In contrast, we found several lines of evidence that clearly showed that Chinook salmon historically migrated to the Klamath Upper Basin. A determination of the upstream extent of distribution for steelhead, coho salmon, and Pacific lamprey was more difficult. However, available documentation indicates that steelhead accessed habitat in the tributaries of Upper Klamath Lake as well. Pacific lamprey probably accessed habitat upstream at least to Spencer Creek and possibly beyond, as did coho salmon. There is limited evidence that a small run of sockeye salmon may have accessed habitat in Upper Klamath Lake or Buck Lake. Green sturgeon distribution extended upstream to the vicinity of the Salmon River in the midKlamath River portion of the watershed. Chum salmon, pink salmon, eulachon, and cutthroat trout were limited to the lower Klamath River, well below the current location of Iron Gate Dam. This documentation resolves a great deal of the uncertainty regarding which species were present above Iron Gate Dam and the extent of their upstream distribution, both key to realizing fisheries restoration opportunities.

Sources: John B. Hamilton, Gary L. Curtis, Scott M. Snedaker, David K. White Hamilton and Curtis are fishery biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office, Yreka, CA. Hamilton can be contacted at [email protected]. Snedaker is a fishery biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Klamath Falls, OR. White is a hydraulic engineer—fish passage specialist with NOAA Fisheries in Santa Rosa, CA.

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