Chinook Spawning Again In San Joaquin River

Salmon being released into the San Joaquin River. (John Chacon / California Department) of Water

When I lived in Fresno – as a Fresno State student and then a few more years after graduation – one of my favorite parts of town was checking out the bluffs overlooking the San Joaquin River. I fished a few times up the road at Lost Lake just below Friant Dam – I remember in around 2010 when I drove from the Bay Area to visit friends during a rainy winter how much water there was in the Lost Lake area when I tried to walk my dog around there (little did I know how the drought would change that in a hurry).

But the once might San Joaquin has seen some hard times over the years, so it was encouraging to see this Fresno Bee  report from Brianna Calix. Chinook are spawning again in the San Joaquin!

Here’s the Bee with more:

A recent breakthrough came in fall 2017, when spring-run Chinook salmon created their nests, called redds, in the colder parts of the river below Friant Dam. The fish successfully spawned, laying eggs that incubated and hatched into tiny fry as the sexually mature fish died, part of the species’ unusual life cycle.

Biologists working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s San Joaquin River Restoration Project began catching the juvenile fish in traps in November and December.

It was the first time in 60 years that spring-run Chinook successfully reproduced in the embattled San Joaquin, which for years has remained one of the nation’s most endangered rivers.

“Having these spring-run spawn in the river really starts to build scientific evidence that yes, spawning is possible,” said Alicia Forsythe, the restoration program manager. “One year doesn’t prove that this is going to work in the future and everything is great  We definitely need to see a number of years of data to help us come to those conclusions. But, it’s promising.”

Spring-run Chinook essentially disappeared from the San Joaquin after the Friant Dam was completed in the 1940s, drying out a 60-mile stretch of the river for more than half a century. Salmon couldn’t complete their journey back from the ocean to the river where they reproduce.

But hopefully San Joaquin is coming back, and so will the salmon.