In 1992, Lonesome Larry arrived at the Redfish fish trap after a harrowing 900-mile upstream battle. During this perilous river odyssey, he gained 6,500 feet in elevation and performed acrobatic feats up and over the fish ladders of eight different dams, four on the Columbia, and four on the lower Snake. He did it while shunning food, instinctively focused only on his return home, and the opportunity to spawn.
By the time Larry arrived in his home waters in the Sawtooth Valley, sockeye salmon were in eminent danger, having been listed an endangered species only the year before. In a fateful turn, in 1992, he was the only one of his kind to survive. With no love interest in sight, his inborn destiny of spawning to perpetuate his species seemed lost, a Greek tragedy freshly retold.
But there was a government agency awaiting his return to throw a lifeline in a last ditch and desperate effort to save the sockeye. Lonesome Larry became part of a captive breeding program operated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to save the Northwest’s most endangered salmon from extinction.
Biologists needed his manpower, so to speak. In fact, had Larry been a female, this single fish may have been released into Redfish to die alone, so little sperm was then available. Instead, Larry’s unstoppable masculinity generated exponential rewards, and a new hope.
Biologists injected a hormone pellet into Larry after his first milking, so that he generated sperm for nearly a month. Like a scene from a futuristic suspense thriller, his milt was frozen with liquid nitrogen and cryogenically stored in strategic locations across the Northwest. For years, his potent sperm cocktail sat on ice, waiting for the right time.
When females returned in 1996 and 1997, Larry finally got his chance to breed. Though in a captive broodstock program and carefully mated by hatchery biologists, Larry spawned hope for the future of fish. His genes are now scattered throughout a percentage of every new generation of sockeye, including the 1,000 or so fish that are likely to return in 2012.
Now stuffed and mounted on the wall of the MK Nature Center in Boise, Larry remains an Idaho icon. In this epic journey and lonely end, he spawned hope for the future of his species, and for people who value the treasure of wild salmon.
This year, on the 20th anniversary of Larry’s return home, it’s time to boost our efforts for Idaho’s incredible wild sockeye salmon. Hatchery programs are only short-term fixes, costly to the public at large. The short-sighted causes for the catastrophic decline of this remarkable species remain fixed in place, blocking the way of long-term recovery.
Break sockeye free from captive broodstock programs, with sustainable solutions that will ensure lasting and natural returns for Idaho’s most daring and deserving wild fish. Help Lonesome Larry.