BOISE — Spring is officially here, and with that comes a lot of water in Idaho’s rivers.
High runoff is critical to help flush Idaho’s out-migrating steelhead smolts to the Pacific Ocean. Idaho steelhead enter fresh water in one year and spawn the following spring.
Idaho has A and B strains of steelhead that are classified based on life-history characteristics. Generally, A-strain steelhead spend one year in the ocean and return to freshwater during the summer. The B-strain steelhead commonly spend two years in the ocean before returning to freshwater in late summer or autumn. The broodstock collection facilities for steelhead produced in the Magic Valley region include Oxbow, Pahsimeroi, Sawtooth, East Fork Salmon River and Dworshak National Fish Hatchery.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game operates four of the five steelhead production hatcheries in the state. These four hatcheries produce over 5.7 million smolts on an annual basis with nearly 5 million of those being produced right here in the Magic Valley region at the Niagara Springs, Magic Valley and Hagerman National Fish Hatchery.
All of the smolts must be transported back to the broodstock collection facilities for release each spring. The smolts will return to these locations in one to two years as adults to spawn. If you have seen the fish transport tankers heading north up U.S. 93 or west along Interstate 84, they are hauling the next generation of steelhead back to their natal waters for release.