The fallout from the cancelation of California’s salmon fishing seasons has offered a sense of frustration but also relief and common sense overtaking the anger. California Trout took this rational approach with an editorial on the closures. It’s an informative read overall, but here’s a sample:
Right now, we believe that the commercial salmon fishing ban is what our salmon need to ensure population numbers do not dip to unrecoverable lows. As we look to future population resiliency, there are so many other things these fish need, and our teams are working hard to make them happen.
CalTrout works from ridge top to river mouth to get salmon populations unassisted access to each link in the chain of habitats that each of their life stages depends on. This includes efforts to allow returning adult salmon to access cold, headwater habitats blocked behind dams on the Eel River and Battle Creek. On the Eel River, dam removal would open almost 300 miles of habitat to salmon and steelhead. On Battle Creek, the focus is cold water – and lots of it. Dam removal could restore access to 42 miles of historic cold water habitat that would give salmon a place to take refuge when water heats up in nearby watersheds.
Young salmon born in those headwater habitats then need access to food on their downstream journey to the sea. Wetlands, where much of a river system’s food is made, have been drained and separated from river channels by levees cutting off fish from their food. Our science shows that when young salmon get access to the abundant fish food produced in inundated floodplain wetlands they rapidly grow big and healthy and are much more likely to return as adults. In the Central Valley, our team is working to expand access to floodplain habitats at landscape scale in places like Yolo and Sutter Bypasses. We are also working with farmers to flood farm fields (primarily rice) in winter and then drain the abundant aquatic food webs that grow in the shallow, fertile water back into the fish food-scarce river channel where young starving salmon can feed. This year we have flooded and drained almost 70,000 acres through our Fish Food project. And next year, we will expand even further.
Investments in headwaters passage and floodplains are both critical, and just as importantly neither is sufficient on its own. Longitudinal (upstream-downstream) passage over barriers and dams facilitates adult salmon access to holding and spawning habitats while lateral (side to side) connectivity between river channels and wetland rearing habitats improves the survival of the juveniles spawned by those adults. If we invest in high quality headwater habitat access for adult salmon, then we will see the results as they spawn and produce more offspring. And if we invest in floodplain connectivity for our juvenile fish, then we will see the results in the next generation of adults as they return to our rivers.