News & Stories

  • Feather River smolt release to help biologists study salmon life cycle; Carlsbad Desalination Plant updated permit approved by San Diego Water Board

    May 9, 2019

    NEWS WORTH NOTING From the Department of Fish and Wildlife

    On May 8, CDFW released about 1 million fall run Chinook Salmon smolts into the Feather River at the Boyd’s Pump Launch facility. This experimental in-river release will provide fisheries biologists an important opportunity to study how fish respond under specific environmental conditions, as compared to fish released at other points in the river system.

    Anglers have expressed concern that striped bass predation is high during this time period on the Feather River. While predation is always a threat to the young salmon, it is only one of the challenges they face throughout their complicated life cycle. The good news is that current high river flows favor increased downriver salmon survival.

    “It’s critical that a portion of the population survives the treacherous journey downriver, eventually returning to pass their genes to their offspring,” said Jay Rowan, CDFW supervising fisheries biologist. “The traits those survivors pass on will help the species adapt to current conditions and better prepare them for long-term challenges such as climate change.”

    Central Valley rivers like the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne have been modified through the addition of dams, river channelization and flow control. To maximize returns and allow for naturally occurring genetic variation, hatcheries in each river system have begun to utilize a variety of release strategies including trucking a portion of the fish downstream, utilizing ocean net pens and varying release sites to improve overall salmon resiliency and survival.

    More than 30 million Chinook Salmon smolts are released from hatcheries throughout California’s Central Valley each year. This upcoming release of 1 million smolts on the Feather River is only one of almost 100 different releases taking place this spring up and down Central Valley rivers, San Pablo Bay, San Francisco Bay and into coastal net pens. Each release has a different intent and goals for contributions to ocean and inland fisheries, returns to the river and returns to the hatchery.

    Feather River Hatchery alone will release 7 million fall run Chinook Salmon in 2019. In addition to the 1 million that will be released this week, another million will be trucked to Fort Baker in the San Francisco Bay and 5 million will be trucked to acclimation net pens in the San Pablo Bay.

    Survival prospects for all releases are very good. This year’s large snow pack and high river flows are a far cry from the drought years with low clear water conditions that foster higher levels of predation, disease and other stressors. Survival out of the system should contribute to improved harvest opportunities in the near future.

    Last month, CDFW released 600 spring run Chinook Salmon smolts into the Feather River. The fish were implanted with acoustic tags before their release, and preliminary data indicates that this group is showing a significantly higher survival rate as they travel downriver than fish that were released during low water years.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Four years after California‚Äôs largest dam removal project, how are the fish doing?

    May 8, 2019

    San Jose Mercury News By Paul Rogers (Tommy Williams/David Boughton)

    Four years ago, construction crews with huge jackhammers tore apart a 10-story concrete dam in the wooded canyons of the Carmel River, between the Big Sur hills and the beach front town of Carmel.

    The destruction of the San Clemente Dam, which had blocked the river since 1921, remains the largest dam removal project in California history. It’s still early, but one of the main goals of the project seems to be on track: The river is becoming wilder, and struggling fish populations are rebounding.

    “We don’t want to do the touchdown dance yet, but so far things are looking good,” said Tommy Williams, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who has monitored the Carmel River’s recovery. “It’s just amazing how fast these systems come back. Everything is playing out like we thought.”

    Removal of the century-old dam is being watched closely around the country as a potential model for how to demolish other aging, dangerous and obsolete dams and restore rivers to a natural state not seen in generations.

    The 106 foot-tall dam had been located 18 miles up river from Monterey Bay. In 2016, the first year after it was removed, researchers found that no steelhead trout, an iconic type of rainbow trout listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, swam past its former site to a tagging location seven miles upriver. By 2017, seven steelhead had made the trip. Last year, the count was 29. So far this year, 123 steelhead have traveled upriver.

    “We’re seeing progress. I’m surprised that it has been happening in such a short time,” said Aman Gonzalez, who managed the dam removal project for California-American Water, the company that owned it.

    The more of the muscular, silvery fish make it upstream, the more the species can expand back into its traditional range, scientists say, increasing the number of places where the fish can spawn and produce more babies in the years ahead.

    The broader lesson, scientists say, is one of hope. Despite declines in other species, some wildlife species — from the Great Plains bison to Pacific gray whales to bald eagles — have rebounded significantly, despite plummeting close to extinction, after humans recognized what was killing them and corrected it. For bison and whales, it was hunting. For bald eagles, it was the now-banned chemical DDT.

    For steelhead trout, dams built across the West over the past century blocked their ability to swim to the ocean and return upriver to spawn, crashing their populations.

    “They just need the right conditions, and they’ll come back,” said David Boughton, a research ecologist with NOAA in Santa Cruz. “They are a resilient, hardy species.”

    When San Clemente Dam was built in 1921, the curved arch structure was a key source of water for growing Monterey Peninsula towns.

    But its reservoir became silted up with sand and gravel that washed downriver over the years. By 2002, San Clemente’s reservoir was so silted up that it stopped supplying water.

    Worse, state inspectors declared in 1991 that the aging dam, with its rusted pipes, railings and valves, was at risk of failure in an earthquake — a disaster that could wipe out hundreds of homes downstream. So Cal Am Water had two choices: Shore up a useless dam for $49 million, or tear it down and restore the river for $84 million.

    At first, the water company leaned toward buttressing the dam because it was cheaper. But the National Marine Fisheries Service said it was not likely to issue permits because the dam blocked the migration of steelhead, protected by the Endangered Species Act.

    The impasse was broken after Cal Am named a new president, and former U.S. Rep. Sam Farr pushed for removal. Under the deal they struck, Cal Am provided $49 million by raising water rates $2.94 a month on its 110,000 customers in Monterey County. Another $25 million came from the California Coastal Conservancy in Oakland, through state parks and water bonds. And the remaining $10 million came from federal grants and private donations.

    Construction crews couldn’t simply dynamite the dam, however.

    That would have released all of the sediment behind it — 2.5 million cubic yards, or enough to fill 250,000 dump trucks — and killed everything in the river. It also could have flooded 1,500 homes downstream.

    “All that sediment, how do you move it?” said Gonzalez. “Where do you move it? It would have become a 10-year project. That’s why we decided to leave it in place.”

    Instead, under the contract awarded to Granite Construction of Watsonville, workers rerouted the Carmel River for half a mile into an adjacent stream, San Clemente Creek. The giant sediment pile was shaped, compacted and blocked off.

    Crews recycled the dam’s steel. They broke the concrete pieces ranging in size from softballs to boulders. They buried the debris in the sediment pile and covered it with willows, sycamores and other native plants. They built rocky step-pools, each one foot higher than the previous one so the fish could migrate upriver more easily.

    They also tore out the Old Carmel River Dam, a 32-foot-high structure half a mile downstream that was built in the 1880s to provide water for Hotel Del Monte, the resort that was the precursor to Pebble Beach.

    When the rains came in the wet winter of 2017, the river moved millions of tons of sand, gravel, broken trees and other debris downriver. It reclaimed its historic meandering path. The debris created pools and hiding places for young fish to avoid snakes, birds and other predators.

    Scientists say they will need another decade to make sure the experiment is working.

    “If we go into another big drought, we expect there to be an impact,” Williams said. “But we’re making more resilient populations of fish, so they should be able to withstand it.”

    One more dam remains upriver from the San Clemente site. Los Padres Dam, built in 1946, is partially silted up and 148 feet high. Scientists are studying the feasibility of removing it. Cal Am draws its water now from wells alongside the river.

    Other dam-removal projects, including four huge dams on the Klamath River at the Oregon-California border, along with the 165-foot Matilija Dam in Ventura County and others, are slated for removal. Many of the projects just need money.

    At the Carmel River, though, other species, such as lampreys, an eel-like fish, are coming back, and tributaries are showing more wildlife.

    “The river is recovering to its natural state,” said Tim Frahm, Central Coast Steelhead coordinator with Trout Unlimited, an environmental group. “We hope it will be as healthy in a few years as it was 100 years ago.”

     

    Read the article at the source »

  • Feather River Smolt Release to Help Biologists Study Salmon Life Cycle

    May 8, 2019

    California Fish and Wildlife News

    On May 8, CDFW released about 1 million fall run Chinook Salmon smolts into the Feather River at the Boyd’s Pump Launch facility. This experimental in-river release will provide fisheries biologists an important opportunity to study how fish respond under specific environmental conditions, as compared to fish released at other points in the river system.

    Anglers have expressed concern that striped bass predation is high during this time period on the Feather River. While predation is always a threat to the young salmon, it is only one of the challenges they face throughout their complicated life cycle. The good news is that current high river flows favor increased downriver salmon survival.

    “It’s critical that a portion of the population survives the treacherous journey downriver, eventually returning to pass their genes to their offspring,” said Jay Rowan, CDFW supervising fisheries biologist. “The traits those survivors pass on will help the species adapt to current conditions and better prepare them for long-term challenges such as climate change.”

    Central Valley rivers like the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne have been modified through the addition of dams, river channelization and flow control. To maximize returns and allow for naturally occurring genetic variation, hatcheries in each river system have begun to utilize a variety of release strategies including trucking a portion of the fish downstream, utilizing ocean net pens and varying release sites to improve overall salmon resiliency and survival.

    More than 30 million Chinook Salmon smolts are released from hatcheries throughout California’s Central Valley each year. This upcoming release of 1 million smolts on the Feather River is only one of almost 100 different releases taking place this spring up and down Central Valley rivers, San Pablo Bay, San Francisco Bay and into coastal net pens. Each release has a different intent and goals for contributions to ocean and inland fisheries, returns to the river and returns to the hatchery.

    Feather River Hatchery alone will release 7 million fall run Chinook Salmon in 2019. In addition to the 1 million that will be released this week, another million will be trucked to Fort Baker in the San Francisco Bay and 5 million will be trucked to acclimation net pens in the San Pablo Bay.

    Survival prospects for all releases are very good. This year’s large snow pack and high river flows are a far cry from the drought years with low clear water conditions that foster higher levels of predation, disease and other stressors. Survival out of the system should contribute to improved harvest opportunities in the near future.

    Last month, CDFW released 600 spring run Chinook Salmon smolts into the Feather River. The fish were implanted with acoustic tags before their release, and preliminary data indicates that this group is showing a significantly higher survival rate as they travel downriver than fish that were released during low water years.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Volunteers give 720,000 salmon a head start on life

    May 5, 2019

    San Francisco Chronicle by Tom Stienstra

    In Half Moon Bay, some volunteers wanted more salmon in the ocean. Now they have them.

    In a testament to how to get what you want, the Coastside Fishing Club will take delivery of 720,000 juvenile salmon this month in three net pens in Pillar Point Harbor. The fish will be acclimated to ocean waters and then released this summer.

    This is more than a fishing story.

    If you want more flowers, plant them. If you want more songbirds, scatter some feed and put up a birdhouse. If you want hummingbirds, put up a few feeders. And if you want more salmon, grow them yourself.

    In the big picture, members of the Coastside Fishing Club recognize that the quality of habitat — for salmon, that would be the breeding grounds, rivers and the ocean — is the fundamental key for health and abundance for all species. They also recognize that when habitat has been compromised, you can give nature a helping hand.

    This year’s project starts Saturday, when about 35 volunteers will build three pens at Pillar Point Harbor. The Department of Fish and Wildlife then will deliver 720,000 smolts in three shipments, May 18, 25 and June 1.

    It is a spectacular sight to watch the fish release. From the pier, the young fish are shot out of a stream of water from a tanker truck and into the submerged nets below.

    By bringing the juvenile salmon to Pillar Point Harbor, the young fish bypass a maze of pumps, reverse currents in the delta and predators in a 300-mile river journey they otherwise would face en route to the ocean. To document survival rates, the club has embedded wire codes in the fish to later ID them. The net pen salmon have had about 10 times the survival rates compared with the salmon released from hatcheries, according to one study.

    The program started in 2012, and now, each year in late summer, 3-year-old salmon return to the entrance of the harbor and provide a fishery from Pillar Point Harbor that hadn’t existed. The fish eventually head north to San Francisco Bay and venture upriver to spawn.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Chinook Salmon Spring-Run wraps up at One Mile Recreation Area

    May 1, 2019

    Action News By Stephanie Schmieding, Cecile Juliette

    CHICO, Calif. - The Big Chico Creek Chinook Salmon Spring-Run is just wrapping up at One Mile Recreation Area.

    There is a fish ladder at the bridge at One Mile Recreation Area, which helps the endangered salmon make the run through Sycamore Pool.

    The Spring-Run Chinook Salmon have been moving up Big Chico Creek, according to Michael Hellmair, a local fish biologist.

    "They started showing up a little over a week ago and they're making their way through downtown and Lower Bidwell Park and upstream to the coldest and deepest water they can find to spend the summer before they spawn their eggs and fall," he said.

    The species is endangered, which has led to fewer numbers making the run through Big Chico Creek in recent years.

    "There haven't been any returns in appreciable numbers to Big Chico Creek in the last few years, since about 2011, which is an indication that Big Chico Creek is a dependent population, these fish were actually born in a different stream," Hellmair said.

    The fish have been coming through the fish ladder and into Sycamore Pool for the past 10 days.

    "It's important to know that these fish live off of their energy reserves," he said. "So all of the food that they ate out in the ocean, they stored up as fat and that's what they have to live off of until they lay their eggs in early Fall."

    Hellmair captured photo and video of some of the salmon population making its way through Lower Bidwell Park.

    The city of Chico allowed the lowering of the dam so that it would make it easier for the fish to use the ladder into Sycamore Pool, he said.

    "Like I said, they have to live off of their energy reserves in the Summer," Hellmair said. "Every calorie counts."

    The Camp Fire did affect the Butte Creek Watershed, which is home to the largest spring run salmon population in the Central Valley.

    However, Hellmair said biologists will not know for another three years whether there is an impact on the fish due to the Camp Fire.

    "It's difficult to tell right now what the impacts are simply because we won't really know for another three years until that generation that was affected comes back so we can find out what those numbers were," he said.

    Hellmair is optimistic in saying that the fish population may be OK because the vegetation in that area of the watershed appears to be intact.

    "There may be some runoff of ash and debris, but hopefully it didn't have too big of an impact, but we won't know for sure for another three years," he said.

    Read the article at the source »

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