New Plan Announced As Cali Salmon Struggle

Winter-run Chinook salmon eggs photo by Laura Mahoney/USFWS.



Have you heard? Salmon are struggling in California waters.  A UC Davis study released earlier this year that endangered winter-run Chinook were straying off course from their expected spawning waters in the Sacramento River, a sign of at least peculiar behavior.

On Thursday, federal fisheries officials announced a $100-million  conservation plan as concerns about extinction escalate.  Here’s Ryan Sabalow of the Sacramento Bee:

During the worst of California’s five-year drought, thousands of eggs and newly spawned salmon baked to death along a short stretch of the Sacramento River below Shasta Dam.

The winter-run Chinook, already hanging by a thread, nearly went extinct.

Hoping to avoid a repeat of that dire scenario, fisheries officials announced Thursday the launch of a plan — nearly 20 years and $100 million in the making — they say would expand the spawning range of the fish to include a cold-water stream called Battle Creek. The idea is that the stream could keep the fragile winter-run alive as California’s rivers get hotter because of a warming climate. …

… On Thursday, fisheries managers said that over the coming weeks they were going to release around 200,000 young winter-run Chinook raised at a hatchery to Battle Creek, which feeds into the Sacramento River below the dam near Anderson in Shasta County.

Thanks to cold springs that keep the stream flowing all summer long, Battle Creek long has been considered a possible sanctuary for the winter-run, which spawn in the blast-furnace heat of the Sacramento Valley’s summers.

“We see this an area that can be resilient to climate change,” said Howard Brown, the Sacramento River basin chief for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

At the end of their three-year life cycle, adult Chinook instinctively return from the ocean to the stream or river where they were hatched to spawn and die. Battle Creek was one of their traditional spawning grounds, but small hydroelectric dams and other barriers blocked the fish from using its icy waters.

It has taken nearly 20 years and close to $100 million to remove barriers and install fish ladders and screens to open up enough of Battle Creek’s northern fork for regulators to try introducing the fish to the creek in the hopes of building a self sustaining population.

The Golden Gate Salmon Association’s president, John McManus, commented on the ambitious plan:

“I think everyone agrees that we need at least one backup population of winter run salmon in addition to the one that’s teetering on the brink of extinction in the upper Sacramento River.  Reintroducing winter run to Battle Creek is a good step towards stabilizing this unique run of salmon and hopefully rebuilding their numbers to where they can get out of the ICU unit of the Endangered Species Act,” McManus said in a statement.

“Salmon fishermen used to have good fishing right outside the Golden Gate in February years ago before winter run salmon were decimated by changes to their habitat in the upper Sacramento River.  Maybe someday we’ll see this again.”