News & Stories

  • After 25 years winter-run salmon return to Battle Creek

    May 19, 2019

    Redding Record Searchlight

    For years fisheries experts have watched the number of winter-run chinook salmon dwindle as they suffered through drought and adverse conditions in the Sacramento River.

    But this year a small crop of the endangered salmon have made their way back from the ocean to return Battle Creek in southern Shasta County, something that hasn't happened in some 25 years.

    And officials hope the fish are the beginning of a new run of salmon in the creek.

    "We're just really excited," said Jim Smith, project leader at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Red Bluff. "It's a pretty significant step, in terms of the winter run."

    Fish and wildlife service officials last year released 214,000 one-year-old winter-run chinook salmon into Battle Creek, about 10 upstream of the Coleman National Fish Hatchery south of Anderson.

    As of last week, 13 of the 2-year-old salmon had returned from the ocean. Smith said he expects more to return over the next several weeks.

    Most salmon return to the stream where they were hatched at 3 years old, so this years returnees will be fewer in number. They also are expected to be almost all males, so they won't likely be finding any females to spawn with, he said.

    More salmon, and more females, are expected to return next year, he said.

    Fisheries officials are particularly interested in establishing a salmon run in Battle Creek to augment the existing run in the Sacramento River, where the fish have struggled for many years.

    The winter run is one four runs of chinook salmon in the North State, each named after the time of year when returners are headed back to their spawning grounds and pass under the Golden Gate Bridge -- fall, late fall, spring and winter.

    The fall run of chinook return to Battle Creek by the thousands each year as they make their way to the Coleman Fish Hatchery. But the fall run return to the North State later in the year than the winter run.

    Before Shasta Dam was built the winter run spawned upstream of what is now Lake Shasta, in the colder waters of the McCloud, Pit and Sacramento rivers.

    When Shasta and Keswick dams were built, the winter run were cut off from their spawning grounds.

    The winter-run populations once reached as many as 100,000 in the 1960s, but since then the fish have struggled in the Sacramento River below the dam because they require colder water, fisheries officials said.

    To help the fish the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam, sends colder water from the deeper parts of Lake Shasta down through the dam into the Sacramento River when the winter run are spawning in hot Redding summers.

    But in 2014 and 2015 the cold water pool in Lake Shasta was depleted leaving only warm water, above 56 degrees, to send downstream into the river. During those two years nearly all the winter run eggs and recent hatches were killed.

    Fisheries officials said establishing salmon runs outside the Sacramento River will help ensure the survival of the winter-run chinook and make them less dependent on a single spawning stream.

    “This is a significant step towards success of expanding the current range of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon and in the recovery of this unique species,” Smith said.

    In addition to establishing a new salmon run on Battle Creek, fisheries officials are working on a plan to re-introduce winter run to the McCloud River by trucking them past Shasta Dam.

    Smith said he expects about a quarter of a percent of the fish released into Battle Creek last year will return this year and next. Nearly all of them will be diverted from the creek to Coleman Fish Hatchery, he said.

    There are barriers in the creek that prevent adult salmon from returning to where they were released, about 10 miles upstream of the hatchery.

    Over the past 20 years federal officials have spent about $100 million removing barriers in the stream that have prevented the salmon from spawning upstream of Coleman. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has several diversions on the stream used to create hydropower.

    The Battle Creek Restoration Project aims to help the salmon get around those barriers. There are plans to remove the final two barriers on the creek during the next two years, Smith said.

     

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  • Endangered Winter-Run Chinook Salmon return early, a good sign for the species

    May 17, 2019

    ABC Sacramento by Briona Haney

    RED BLUFF, Calif. — U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Biologists are welcoming a surprise in the Sacramento River this spring. Some of the endangered Winter-Run Chinook Salmon have returned early and it is a good sign for the future of the species.

    Biologists found that at least 13 male juvenile Winter-Run Chinook Salmon have already returned after being released into Battle Creek one year ago. These fish were part of a group of 214,000 released into the river last year.

    Experts say it is exciting news because the only place this species of fish exists is in the Redding area.

    "They're important because they're an endangered fish species. We're trying to recover them. It's also important because this particular run of Salmon used to be in the hundreds of thousands right here in Red Bluff and they used to support a very healthy in river fishery. So, this is a step toward recovering these fish and the potential for having another healthy fishery in the river," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Project Leader Jim Smith.

    The Winter-Run Chinook Salmon population has overcome a lot of hurdles to see this progress. In 2014 and 2015 drought nearly wiped out the entire juvenile population.

    However, to offset the dwindling population, government agencies have invested more than $100 million to restore roughly 48 miles of prime salmon and Steelhead habitat since 1999, and it seems to be working.

    They say these early-arrivals are a good sign for the Chinook Salmon population. They made it back in only a year. So, they're hoping to see large numbers returning next year as well.

    Read the article at the source »

  • 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 »

  • 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 »

  • 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.”

     

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