Nez Perce Tribe Releases Spring Chinook into Sweetwater Creek for the First Time

After almost a century, spring Chinook will return to Lapwai and Sweetwater Creek

Lapwai, Idaho- Today, March 9, 2022, the Nez Perce Tribe Department of Fisheries Resources Management (DFRM) released juvenile spring Chinook salmon smolts into Sweetwater Creek for the first time. Spring Chinook have not been found in Sweetwater Creek, nor the connecting Lapwai Creek, for close to a century. With this release, it is anticipated that adult spring Chinook will begin returning to the area in 2024.

When the Lewiston Dam was built on the Clearwater River near the Potlatch mill in 1927, the dam did not have adequate fish passage and spring Chinook were extirpated upstream of the dam.  After the removal of the Lewiston Dam in the 1970s, spring Chinook were reintroduced in the Clearwater River through hatchery programs.  

Spring Chinook have not been reintroduced into Sweetwater Creek nor Lapwai Creek prior to this release, due to a lack of water and poor habitat.  The DFRM has worked to improve this habitat by reconnecting the creek with the original floodplain and installing instream structures.  In addition, the Nez Perce Tribe has worked in collaboration with several area stakeholders over the last decade on the Lewiston Orchards Project to increase stream flows in Sweetwater Creek.  As a result, Sweetwater Creek is expected to have increased and cooler water flows, and better habitat by the time these spring Chinook return as adults.  The DFRM expects to continue these releases annually and anticipates they will provide a fishery opportunity for tribal and non-tribal fishers, when the adults return. 

The spring Chinook release was another mitigation effort for the negative impacts the dams place on salmon. In the last two decades the Nez Perce Tribe has successfully reintroduced coho and fall Chinook from Lapwai Creek releases, providing harvest opportunities and fish spawning.  In the fall months, coho and fall Chinook salmon can be seen spawning and swimming up Lapwai Creek.  In May 2024, after almost 100 years, there will also be spring Chinook salmon.

Production of the fish was a joint effort by Dworshak National Fish Hatchery (Dworshak NFH) and the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery (NPTH) through funding from the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan program.  The spring Chinook were spawned and incubated at Dworshak NFH and then transferred to NPTH where they were reared to their final stages.