News & Stories

  • Oroville Dam: One million chinook salmon rescued during spillway crisis released into Feather

    March 21, 2017

    San Jose Mercury News/Chico Enterprise Record By Risa Johnson (Christina Durham, Amanda Cranford)

    Yuba City – About one million endangered fish flooded into a stretch of the Feather River near Yuba City Monday, transported out of the Thermalito annex of the Feather River Fish Hatchery by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service.

    The Department of Fish and Wildlife wanted to free up some room at the crowded annex off Highway 99 west of Oroville and get the area’s vital spring-run chinook salmon and steelhead trout into the river before predicted rainfall, as high flows can endanger the fish, said Andrew Hughan, public information officer for the department.

    Now those that make it will head downstream and eventually to the ocean.

    In February, millions of fish were rescued from rough, dirty waters resulting from the Oroville Dam spillway emergency, thanks to creative engineering by employees at Oroville’s Feather River Hatchery, which is the largest in the state. Debris was crumbling down the damaged spillway at the dam into the river, threatening the young fish there.

    In the quickly escalating situation, the department first scooped up and trucked about 5 million spring-run chinook salmon babies to the auxiliary hatchery in Thermalito, leaving behind 1.9 million fall-run salmon and a million steelhead eggs, according to a previous article in this newspaper.

    Fall-run salmon were saved by filtration pumps in the hatchery’s raceways and crews at the hatchery constructed an unorthodox filtration system for steelhead eggs using a fire hydrant. Water was filtered through six-foot tall cylinders filled with charcoal before being pumped into egg trays full of incubating steelhead trout babies.

    “I call it Apollo 13 engineering,” Hughan said. “They put this together in one morning.”

    On Monday, the fish were transported in three trucks, two with 400,000 fish and one with 200,000 fish. With the opening of a latch and crank of a lever, a black floppy mass gushed out of pipes in the back of the trucks. Not all headed straight for the fast current, but Hughan said he didn’t anticipate any complications in the fish finding their way, which should be instinctual.

    Every single one should be tagged so the department will be able to track them, with readers all the way down to the ocean, to see how many made the course. And this is not an unusual journey for the fish.

    Every single one should be tagged so the department will be able to track them, with readers all the way down to the ocean, to see how many made the course. And this is not an unusual journey for the fish.

    “They looked happy when they got released, because they were jumping,” she said.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Fish in a Barrel: The Benefits of Terminal Fisheries

    March 20, 2017

    FishBio

    California's hatcheries have released approximately 2 billion Central Valley fall-run Chinook salmon into the state's waterways since the construction of the first modern fish hatchery in 1942. As of today, more than 90 percent of the California's ocean population of salmon originated in hatcheries (Barnett-Johnson et al. 2007). This massive production of fish has ensured that the fall-run salmon fishery remains relatively stable despite the numerous threats that have decimated other California Chinook salmon populations, like winter-run and spring-run. However, this production comes at a cost, such as threatening the genetic diversity of wild salmon when the two groups interbreed. Keeping hatchery produced and naturally spawned salmon separated in the wild is one strategy for reducing such threats.

    As detailed in previous Fish Reports, hatchery-origin fish have profound impacts on the few wild populations that remain. Hatchery fish, which are highly genetically similar, decrease the genetic diversity of a naturally spawning fish population when they interbreed, and can reduce fitness by essentially erasing generations of natural selection for traits adapted to the local environment (Araki et al. 2008, Christie et al. 2014). Hatchery fish are also highly likely to stray, or return to waterways other than their stream of origin, which has contributed to fall-run Chinook salmon in the Central Valley now being considered a genetically homogenous population (Williamson and May 2005). In addition, stray rates have likely increased in recent years due to higher proportions of young hatchery fish being released directly into the San Francisco Estuary, which does not allow them to imprint on their stream of origin. While fish released into rivers at hatchery locations are only expected to stray about 1-10 percent of the time, stray rates are now as high as 98 percent in some cases.

    Recent efforts have been made to reverse these trends in California by preventing interbreeding between hatchery- and natural-origin fish, and attempting to increase production of natural-origin fish, things that fisheries managers throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska have focused on for years. In Alaska, hatcheries are designed to increase abundance and enhance salmon fisheries while still protecting wild stocks, not to mitigate for the loss of wild fish production. Thus, the Alaskan hatchery program was designed to minimize the influence and interactions of hatchery fish and wild populations, in part through careful planning of hatchery locations and harvest areas.

    One tool that has proved highly useful for accomplishing these goals in Alaska is terminal fisheries. These are areas, usually small bays or coves, where hatchery fish are planted or held in net pens as juveniles, which allows them to imprint on that location. These locations do not have river connections to upstream spawning grounds, so when the hatchery fish return after a few years to spawn, they are essentially stuck and available for harvest by anglers. This protects and maintains the population of wild salmon, while allowing for a higher level of harvest in the terminal fishery location. Perhaps the most famous example can be found on the Homer Spit at the end of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, where the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began stocking Chinook salmon in 1984 to create a terminal recreational fishery.

    Terminal fisheries have successfully helped Alaskan hatchery programs balance their dual goals of production and protection of wild salmon populations. Hatcheries in Alaska produce a much smaller percentage of the total fisheries catch (between 15 and 40 percent) compared to California (nearly 90 percent); however, the scale of both hatchery and wild salmon production is much larger in Alaska, and hatcheries in the state produce over 1.5 billion juvenile salmon per year. Despite this incredibly high production, the straying rate of hatchery-origin fish remains remarkably low. In ten wild salmon streams in Southeast Alaska, stray rates averaged a fraction of a percent over a period of thirty years. Of course, several steps must be taken to ensure this level of success, including marking all hatchery fish (through the clipping of their adipose fins), which the Hatchery Scientific Review Group called for in a 2012 review of California hatchery practices, but still has not been implemented. Terminal fisheries are an interesting idea that are worth exploring in this salmon-hungry state, where catching the proverbial 'fish in a barrel' could reel in angler support.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Fishery groups receive state project funding

    March 17, 2017

    Eureka Times Standard By Natalya Estrada

    The California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday selected 19 Humboldt County projects to receive funding for the restoration, enhancement and protection for salmonid habitat.

    One of those projects is the second phase of the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Supply Creek Restoration Project, which was granted $730,000.

    “Specifically this restoration will significantly increase coho salmon habitat,” Mike Orcutt, the tribe’s fisheries department director, said.

    In total, Orcutt said, the tribe has received more than $2 million in funding for Supply Creek.

    “In Phase I, we removed artificial levees and built habitats important for coho salmon, such as an off-channel pond and wetland complex,” Orcutt said. “... This award is for Phase II of the project and will fully restore the entire length of salmon bearing stream.”

    The state fish and wildlife department granted a total of $15 million to 43 watershed projects, including the 19 in Humboldt County.

    Department director Charlton Bonham said in a statement that restoring the ecological function of critical fish habitat was an ongoing priority within the state.

    “Our successes happen when the entire restoration community works together, and we are so fortunate to have stakeholders in California committed to this goal,” Bonham said.

    The Salmon Creek project, according to Orcutt, was selected based on significant potential benefits to species recovery and the tribe’s positive track record in restoring habitat throughout the basin.

    Orcutt said although the project’s goal is to increase habitat for coho salmon, other species including Chinook, steelhead and Pacific lamprey will also benefit from the improvements.

    “These tributaries get used by juvenile coho salmon migrating downstream from throughout the Trinity Basin that need cold water refuge in the summer and areas of slow water in the winter,” Orcutt said

    He said the project will remove a levee built from cars and concrete after the 1964 flood, allowing for more natural stream processes and improve the conditions of the creek for fish.

    The Whitethorn-based Sanctuary Forest — the only Humboldt County project categorized under water conservation — received around $85,000.

    Sanctuary Forest Water Program Director Tasha McKee said the Mattole Storage and Forbearance project stores of up to 50,000 gallons of water using installed water tanks.

    “Ever since the project’s been in place, (the Mattole) hasn’t dried up in the summer,” McKee said. “The project focused on having enough water in stream for the summertime.”

    The watershed grant would allow for the project, which has been in place since 2007, to continue until 2020.

    McKee said that after 2020 Sanctuary Forest would apply for more funding to help young juvenile fish and their habitats through better flow systems.

    “We’re very grateful for the department’s award because it makes a big impact to the fisheries here,” she said.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Endangered Steelhead Trout Returns to Leo Carrillo State Park

    March 16, 2017

    Malibu Times By Jimy Tallal

    “If you remove it, they will come” — that’s what officials have been saying for years in their attempts to remove fish barriers from local creeks once frequented by the now-endangered Southern California Steelhead Trout. And they proved to be correct when, just two weeks after completion of a project to remove two major fish barriers on Arroyo Sequit Creek in Leo Carrillo State Park, a large steelhead was spotted by officials upstream.

    “We had been planning to remove these barriers for over 15 years, and it was so exciting that within two weeks there was rain, and we immediately had a fish,” Suzanne Goode, senior biologist for California State Parks, said. “They’re ready to respond under the right conditions. It’s a really special mission to improve their passage.”

    The project involved removing two low-water “Arizona Crossings” in Arroyo Sequit and replacing them with free span bridges.

    Rosi Dagit, senior conservation biologist for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, was on a regular monthly snorkel survey with her “Stream Team” near the end of January when she spotted the trout.

    “These fish have such an unusual life history of hatching in a creek, going out to the ocean, and then coming back to a creek — not necessarily the same creek,” Dagit said. “That flexibility is key to their survival, because you never know when rain will open up a particular creek to the ocean. This is the first time a steelhead has been spotted there since 2011. Last year, because of the drought, the creek dried up almost completely.”

    Dagit said the southern steelhead trout is more endangered than ever, not only because of fish barriers like dams and bridges on creeks, but because of the long drought. “For six years, there was no connection to the ocean,” she explained. She said the Arroyo Sequit trout was one of only four adults found so far this year between San Luis Obispo and the Mexican border, the only area where they live.

    Although nearly 900 young fish were tagged almost 10 years ago in 2008, none of the ones that went out to sea have returned.

    “They are so close to extinction,” she said. “That’s a despicably low number. And sadly, one of the four died in my hands just last Wednesday.” The crew was doing a snorkel survey in Malibu Creek and saw the 23-inch-long fish lying on its back on the bottom, still alive. They tried holding it up to give it as much oxygen as possible, but said the fish was “all banged up and her scales were abraded.” The fish was in bad shape and did not survive.

    A necropsy showed she had eggs, but they were still immature, and her stomach was “totally empty.” Various scale and tissue samples have been sent off to the National Marine Fisheries Service for analysis.

    “I’ve spent 17 years working to save this species,” Dagit said. “What’s interesting and unusual about the southern steelhead trout is their tolerance to warmer waters than most trout can tolerate. A northern steelhead trout would die down here. The southern steelhead will even continue to grow in warmer waters.”

    The Southern California fish were identified as unique and different from the Northern California trout in 1997 by genetic analysis,” Dagit explained. “The southern steelhead are actually an older species than the northern. They may be our hope for the future, because as ocean temperatures rise because of global warming, they’ll continue to survive.”

    Read the article at the source »

  • Court orders extra water to protect salmon

    February 9, 2017

    Klamath Falls Herald and News By Gerry O’Brien H&N Editor

    A U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco ordered federal agencies Wednesday to take steps to protect juvenile Coho salmon after several years of deadly disease outbreaks in the lower Klamath River.

    Klamath River Coho salmon are listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

    The Yurok Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Klamath Riverkeeper and the Hoopa Valley Tribe sought a court order to compel the Bureau of Reclamation to manage river flows to protect juvenile Coho salmon. The case was heard last week.

    “Mismanagement of Klamath River flows below four major dams led to an outbreak of disease from a parasite called C. shasta in more than 90 percent of sampled juvenile salmon in 2015 and nearly that many in 2014,” according to a press release from EarthJustice.org.

    “These fish are central to the cultural identity and survival of tribal nations along the river, and commercial fishermen rely on California’s second largest salmon producer for their livelihoods.”

    Withholding irrigation water

    According to court documents, the defendants claim the proposed flows will require withholding more than 100,000 acre-feet of water from the irrigation districts that rely on water for agriculture in the Klamath Basin.

    The Klamath Water Users and the Klamath Irrigation District, and others on the project, filed as intervenors on behalf of the federal agencies in the case.

    Scott White, director for the Klamath Water Users Association, said he had not seen the order yet, but bemoaned the fact that the issue was not resolved at the negotiating table.

    “It is my understanding that the federal parties are already discussing how to implement the judge’s order,” White said Wednesday.

    “What is unfortunate is that we are currently looking at an above average water year and discussing what a limited allocation to family farmers and ranchers would look like,” White said. “What a tragic ending to what once was a special and meaningful story of collaboration and concord.”

    A spokesperson for the Bureau’s area office in Klamath Falls said staff is reviewing the ruling and will comment later this week.

    Irreparable harm

    In his 53-page order, Judge William Orrick found that the Bureau’s operation of the Klamath Project is causing irreparable harm to the salmon and the Yurok Tribe and fishing families, and that the water levels also appear favorable this year for the mitigation flows needed to reduce that harm.

    He found that, based on the best available science, “Plaintiffs have demonstrated that flushing flows and emergency dilution flows would reduce C. shasta rates among Coho salmon. There is no meaningful dispute among the parties on this point.”

    He rejected pleas for delay to consider more evidence, stating, “Where plaintiffs have shown a threat of imminent harm to Coho salmon, waiting for perfect science is not appropriate.”

    Read the article at the source »

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