Scientist urges Reclamation to reduce salmon pre-spawning mortality on American River
April 9, 2019
IndyBay by Dan Bacher
To ensure that there is less pre-spawning mortality and salmon can spawn in favorable water conditions, Felix Smith urges Reclamation to make an effort to get 59 to 60 DF by mid October and to remain at or below such temperature. He also says the stream flow should be in the range of 1900 to 2400 cfs.
Felix Smith, a Save the American River Association (SARA) board member and the former U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist who exposed the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge selenium contamination scandal in 1982-83, has just sent a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation regarding his concerns about the operations of Folsom Dam and Reservoir for this summer and fall months.
“My concern is the amount of pre-spawning mortality of the Chinook salmon run that has occurred over the years of 2001 through 2017,” says Smith. “In my opinion, a pre-spawning mortality of more than 5 to 7 percent is uncalled for. An extra effort must be made to reduce such mortality.“
Smith says the Bureau should “prioritize the protection and propagation of Chinook salmon and steelhead. Lets try to reduce the pre-spawning mortality of the Chinook salmon run.”
He says a review of Chinook salmon spawning escapement data for the American River since 2001 shows pre-spawning mortality of 10 percent (2008) to 67 percent in (2001). The lowest per-spawning mortality occurred in 2009 at 4 percent and 6 percent in 2011, “years of very modest runs.”
To ensure that there is less pre-spawning mortality and salmon can spawn in favorable water conditions, Smith urges Reclamation to make an effort to get 59 to 60 DF by mid October and to remain at or below such temperature. He also says the stream flow should be in the range of 1900 to 2400 cfs.
As soon as Smith gets a response to his letter, I will post it here. It would be tragic to see the potential for a robust salmon spawning season on the American this year, due to the heavy Sierra Nevada snowpack, to be diminished due to high spawning mortalities.
We don’t want to see again the 67% mortality that occurred in 2001, a record year for returning American River Chinook salmon, due to low, warm water releases by Reclamation from Nimbus Dam.
The American River is a big contributor to ocean recreational and commercial salmon fisheries. Nimbus Hatchery fall Chinook salmon last year contributed 16 percent of the fish caught in the recreational ocean fishery and 16 percent of the fish landed in the commercial ocean salmon fishery, according to CDFW data.
In 2018, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) scientists estimated that a total of 27,302 salmon, including 17,352 adults and 9,951 jacks and jills (two-year-olds), returned to the American River to spawn. This was 36 percent of the total escapement on the Sacramento River watershed. A total of 21,091, or 39 percent, were natural spawners, while 6,212, or 28 percent, were taken into the hatchery.
Here is Smith’s April 3 letter to Ernest A. Conant, Regional Director of the Mid Pacific Region - Bureau of Reclamation and a former lawyer for agribusiness billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the Kern Water Bank and the Westlands Water District:
Dear Mr. Conant:
This year has been a very good water year. As of March 1, the forecast of runoff for the American River Basin is 3,710,000 acre feet. The month of April with additional snow and rain, the runoff for the American River Basin should be greater.
Irrigated agriculture will benefit. Ground water recharge will benefit. Dry land farming should benefit. The water quality of the Delta should improve as high water cleansed the Delta, especially the south Delta. Hydro power will benefit. All reservoirs are nearly full or full to benefit their beneficiaries.
How does the Bureau of Reclamation plan to operate Folsom Reservoir this summer and fall months to improve conditions to benefit Chinook salmon and steelhead of the American River?
As a suggestion, the Bureau should prioritize the protection and propagation of Chinook salmon and steelhead. Lets try to reduce the pre-spawning mortality of the Chinook salmon run. A review of Chinook salmon spawning escapement data for the American River since 2001 shows pre-spawning mortality of 10 percent (2008) to 67 percent in (2001). The lowest per-spawning mortality occurred in 2009 at 4 percent and 6 percent in 2011, years of very modest runs.
The Bureau seems to wave off mortalities of 12 to 20 percent as normal. Pre-spawning mortality in the range of more than 5 percent is uncalled for and unacceptable. The heaviest mortality occurs during the early portion of the spawning season and gradually decreases.
Therefore let’s make an effort to get 59 to 60 DF by mid October and to remain at or below such temperature. Stream flow should be in the range of 1900 to 2400 cfs. This should reduce the holdover time for adults and encourage spawning to reduce mortality. The earlier the adults spawn the sooner young can move out on winter freshets.
I and the Save the American River Association, the fishing and environmental communities has been waiting for such improvement since the 1992 passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act.
Battle Creek Hatchery releases thousands of endangered chinook salmon into Sacramento River/The effort to bolster the species resulted from the loss of nearly the entire in-river juvenile population during the drought of 2014 and 2015.
April 5, 2019
ANDERSON, Calif. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 185,000 marked juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon into the north fork of Battle Creek for the second year in a row, a continuing effort to jump-start the population.
“Last year, approximately 200,000 hatchery-reared winter-run Chinook salmon were released into Battle Creek,” said Dan Castleberry, Assistant regional director for Fish and Aquatic Conservation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Those fish are expected to return to Coleman National Fish Hatchery in 2020.”
While California is home to many native salmon species, winter-run Chinook salmon face unique challenges during their life cycle.
These fish are historically spawned in the cold, clear waters of the Upper Sacramento, McCloud and Pit Rivers as well as in Battle Creek. The construction of Shasta and Keswick Dams, combined with an extensive hydroelectric project on Battle Creek, blocked access to their native habitats and forced them to spawn in the unhospitable waters downstream of Keswick Dam.
Today, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon are listed as an endangered species under both federal and state law. NOAA Fisheries also considers winter-run Chinook salmon among eight marine species most at risk of extinction.
The single remaining population of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon has persisted in large part due to federal and state agency-managed seasonal cold water releases from Shasta Reservoir, to protect sensitive salmon eggs from the summer heat, and through the release of hatchery-produced juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon from a conservation program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery. However, re-establishing self-sustaining populations in other locales is important for the recovery of these fish.
Soaking rains a boost for salmon/The relentless rain soaking the state is great news for salmon
April 2, 2019
San Francisco Examiner By Robyn Purchia
The relentless rain soaking the state is great news for salmon. In previous years, drought and water diversions significantly lowered California’s rivers and contributed to dramatic drops in fish populations. For example, in the Tuolumne River, San Francisco’s primary source of drinking water, Chinook salmon estimates have ranged from a high of 45,900 fish in 1959 to only 77 in 1991. In 2011, there were an estimated 893 fish.
The high and low numbers generally correspond with wet and dry years. This year’s winter storms have filled the river and inundated the surrounding flood plain, which may increase the survival rate of young salmon.
“We’re really excited,” Peter Drekmeier, policy director with the environmental nonprofit, the Tuolumne River Trust, told me. “Flood plains are great habitat for juvenile salmon because there’s more food and they’re shielded from predators.”
The Tuolumne River Trust and other environmental and fishing organizations also found some hope last week in a unanimous resolution passed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). The resolution requires staff to submit its salmon management proposal to independent scientific review. When the review is complete, it may put to rest a remarkable confrontation that has pitted San Francisco officials against environmentalists and fishing industries.
This controversy began a decade ago when the State Water Board announced its plan to address a collapsing San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed aquatic ecosystem. Water pollution, dams, droughts and diversions have decimated fish populations in the area and contributed to widespread starvation among marine mammals and birds. It’s also hurt the region’s once vibrant fishing industry.
“This is not just about ecosystem health,” Barry Nelson of the Golden Gate Salmon Association said at the hearing. “It’s also about people’s lives.”
The Tuolumne River is one of the tributaries to the San Joaquin River – a key component to the San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed. Last December, the State Water Board voted to require 40 percent of the river’s natural flow to reach the San Joaquin River between February and June. While this would limit diversions, the State Water Board believes the decision balances the needs of people and wildlife.
But San Francisco officials protested anyway. Working with the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts, the City Attorney is currently suing the State Water Board.
SFPUC staff and the irrigation districts also presented the state with an alternate proposal that would address concerns about managing water supply and the environment. The proposal envisions a more modest increase in flows on the Tuolumne River and offers $76 million in funding for habitat restoration projects, such as gravel areas for spawning beds and reducing predators. The proposal also includes a science program to oversee measures’ effectiveness.
Last week, commissioners asked staff to include specific goals in their proposal and commence an independence scientific review at the earliest opportunity.
“If it’s really going to work, why not get it reviewed,” Commissioner Francesca Vietor asked me after the hearing. “This resolution calls for a plan on how we can get healthy fish populations and meet our water supply obligations.”
The Tuolumne River Trust and the Golden Gate Salmon Association believe staff has avoided review on purpose. They point to flaws in the proposal and other studies that have determined similar projects don’t increase salmon populations.
The organizations also highlight that staff has had a decade to develop its proposal and independently verify the science. If they were so certain in the validity of their proposal, environmental and fishing groups assert, they could have submitted it to review a long time ago.
“Peer reviews work and they hold real value,” Nelson told me. “They narrow the controversy.”
Until the review is conducted, City officials and San Franciscans must remain skeptical of staff’s proposal. We don’t know whether it’s possible for The City to reduce diversions from the Tuolumne River only slightly and still increase fish populations. We don’t know if the staff’s proposed habitat restoration projects will work.
All we know is that during wet winters — when Tuolumne River water is flowing and flooding — salmon have a better chance of survival.
390,000 salmon lost after fish hatchery accident
March 29, 2019
KRCRTV Sacramento by Patrick Maravelias
ANDERSON, Calif. — A mistake made at the Coleman Fish Hatchery in Anderson Thursday night led to approximately 390,000 salmon dying, according to Project
Thursday night during tagging operations, water to one raceway was turned off and not discovered until this morning.
Roughly three percent of their annual production was lost, though they are still on track to meet their goals of raising 12 million fish, as well as 700,000 for recovery purposes and 350,000 as part of their Alternative Release Strategy Study.
Galyean says they have adjusted their procedures so it doesn’t happen again and they will be investigating Monday.
The fish lost were Fall Chinook salmon. The hatchery has released 4.9 million thusfar this season and still have 8 million left to release.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife release thousands of endangered salmon into Battle Creek
March 28, 2019
Sacramento Action News
TEHAMA COUNTY, Calif. - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 185,000 endangered winter-run chinook salmon smolts into Battle Creek, west of Red Bluff.
The release was part of the program Jump Start, which helps with the return of the endangered salmon to the Sacramento River Basin.
Adult captive salmon were spawned at Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery up-river of Redding, on the Sacramento River.
Water conditions in Battle Creek and the Sacramento River were deemed excellent by hatchery manager, Brett Galyean, for the release. Recent rain produced high runoff and muddy waters.