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.
The Salmon that Were Born to Survive/Most salmon die after their first spawning. But not all do. Scientists call the survivors “kelts
March 28, 2019
Hakai Magazine by Chris Baraniuk
Everyone makes the same remark: it’s just like counting tree rings. When you press a salmon scale between two small panes of glass and peer at it through a microscope, that’s akin to what you see: an array of concentric circles from the center of the scale out to the edge. As with trees, these rings tell a story.
Recently, Chris Conroy, a fisheries manager in Scotland, took scales off a salmon he’d sampled in a river and inspected them in a lab. Multiple rings form every year in salmon scales. In times of slow growth, such as the winter when salmon eat less, the rings form closer together, in tight, dark bands. At a few key locations on the scale, Conroy noticed several of these dark bands but two wavy ones stood out. These documented years when this fish had returned from the sea, making the arduous journey upriver to spawn. The rings showed that this fish had been captured on its third spawning run.
“That’s six migrations to and from the sea—amazing,” the fishery wrote in a tweet.
Salmon that have spawned before are called kelts. And some kelts, like the Scottish individual, go on to spawn several more times. The technical term for this behavior is iteroparity, but the fish are usually referred to as repeat spawners. Repeat spawners that have spawned three or more times are rare, and although not all species of salmon can be repeat spawners, Atlantic salmon, like the one found by Conroy, can.
For the vast majority of salmon, the trip upriver to spawn is a suicide mission. The fish expend nearly every ounce of energy they have fighting currents, leaping up waterfalls, and dodging predators. Their bodies change—they absorb parts of their skeleton and parts of their skull, using the calcium to fuel the trip. Males grow a hook on their lower lip. In most cases, after they’ve laid and fertilized their eggs, the salmon die.
For Atlantic salmon, the whole journey can cover more than 2,500 kilometers, and is a brutal assault on the salmon’s system. Each run involves serious obstacles, with anthropogenic threats like power station turbines, which can mash a salmon to pieces, being a more recent addition, says Eva Thorstad, a fish ecologist at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Trondheim.
Yet somehow, many fish survive. The kelts that make this trip multiple times can live for more than a decade. Incredibly, they always return to the same river where they themselves hatched. It doesn’t matter if you pick them up and move them to a different location, they will still eventually come back to their river, says Thorstad.
These are salmon that were born to survive. Still, we don’t know all their secrets. As scientists put it in one recent paper[PDF], while Atlantic salmon in general are well studied, “comparatively little is known about the survival and movements of kelts.” For instance, the highest possible number of repeat spawning is unclear, though the present record is seven.
In most parts of the world, the fact that some salmon can be repeat spawners in this way is not very well known. But in the north of Norway, local communities have long understood that kelts are different, says Elina Halttunen, a salmon specialist at Norway’s University of Tromsø.
Halttunen wrote her doctoral thesis on repeat spawners in Norway’s Alta River, well inside the Arctic Circle. In this area, it’s not uncommon to find salmon that have returned for a fourth spawning. Locals know how to recognize kelts—they are the unusually large but tatty fish that are often seen in the rivers in early spring.
Having used so much energy to swim upriver, the fish are hungry, and easily caught on a lure.
“That’s how we could do the study—we could catch them by fishing,” explains Halttunen.
She says that in times gone by when food was scarce, people would eagerly seek out kelts. Though the fish are lean, they are large, and locals would grind them up, mixing them with eggs, milk, and flour to make fishcakes that would then be fried—Støingkake, a Scandinavian delicacy.
The surprising thing that Halttunen and her colleagues discovered about kelts was just how many of them there were in this part of Norway. And with each spawning, survival only becomes more impressive. In general, only 30 percent of Atlantic salmon survive to spawn again. Kelts have already beaten the odds once—with every subsequent journey upriver, they beat the odds again. And yet, female kelts punch above their weight in terms of their egg deposits.
While about 20 percent of the female population in a river might consist of kelts, those fish have been found to contribute nearly 30 percent of all the eggs, on average. Among female fish, repeat spawners are far more fecund, in other words, they produce more offspring. They are bigger than first-timers, and more experienced. According to Halttunen, they are better at building nests, and have more—and potentially larger—eggs. Males also find the older kelts more attractive, so their eggs are more likely to be fertilized. According to Halttunen’s simulations, a small group of kelts could contribute as much as 60 percent of all eggs in one of the Alta’s tributaries. That might occur, she explains, at a time when far fewer first-time spawners arrive in the river.
Repeat spawners are clearly capable of strongly influencing the next generation. “They are kind of an insurance policy of the population,” says Halttunen. “They are the buffer in bad times.”
But semelparous salmon, which only spawn once and then die, are still the norm. So what makes a repeat spawner?
Tutku Aykanat, a fish physiologist at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and his colleagues recently published a paper in which they describe a key genetic difference between semelparous and iteroparous salmon. They found that fish whose genomes had a characteristic section around a gene called vgII3 were more than twice as likely to become repeat spawners.
The team discovered this by examining DNA from thousands of archived salmon scales. Aykanat says that the gene isn’t the only thing that determines iteroparity. There must be environmental factors, too, but exactly what they are remains unknown. And there’s another mystery. Repeat spawning has evolved in Atlantic salmon but not, for example, in Pacific salmon.
Whatever makes the kelts tick, they are needed, says Glenn Crossin, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has studied Atlantic salmon in eastern Canada where the species is struggling. Years of acid rain has altered the rivers, causing fewer eggs to hatch into healthy fish. In regions with declining populations, kelts, especially the fecund females, could be extremely beneficial. “You really want these iteroparous individuals,” says Crossin.
His own research has shown[PDF] that repeat spawners, despite their presumed hardiness, don’t do well if they’re interfered with. When hatcheries retrieve eggs from repeat spawners, the fish tend to die swiftly before they can spawn again. Because they are particularly vulnerable to this sort of intervention, Crossin says conservationists need to be able to distinguish them from other females—and leave the kelts alone.
Perhaps by doing so, the Atlantic salmon in eastern Canada will have a better chance of recovering—all thanks to these wise old kelts.
North Coast salmon season expected to be most prosperous since 2014
March 23, 2019
Santa Rosa Press Democrat by Mary Callahan
There’s some good news this spring for the Northern California fishing fleet, which is looking forward to more available salmon this season compared with recent years.
Local fishermen and women hope to get out on the water earlier, as well, perhaps by May 1.
“Guys are kind of excited, because it looks like we’re going to get more time on the water, so that’s a better chance at catching some fish,” said Lorne Edwards, a veteran fisherman of 30 seasons and president of the Fishermen’s Marketing Association of Bodega Bay.
Restrictions remain inevitable, but the official forecast released last month suggests there are more spawning-age king salmon out in the ocean waiting to be caught than since 2014.
The key is getting the trollers out when the fish are around and with enough time to find them if it’s not obvious where they are at first, Edwards said.
Biologists from the California Department of Fish and Game have estimated nearly 380,000 adult salmon in the ocean from the Sacramento River fall run of chinook this year,
The highest forecast in the previous three years was 299,600 in 2016, though the models used in the calculations are imperfect, particularly in recent years.
The estimates nonetheless bode well for the salmon season, as they inform the decision- making that determines when sport and commercial fishing is allowed in various locations up and down the coast each year.
The commercial schedule won’t be known for a couple of weeks. Final deliberations are scheduled for next month during a weeklong meeting of the Pacific Fishery Management Council in Rohnert Park, beginning April 9.
As it does each year, the council will be choosing between three alternative schedules of varying lengths for the commercial fishery with starting dates for the management district that includes Bodega Bay of May 1, May 17 or June 11.
Each schedule also includes most or all of June, July and August. The most liberal schedule, starting May 1, also includes all of September, while the schedule that includes half of May also takes in half of September. The shortest season would exclude both May and September.
“We’re hoping for the best,” said veteran Bodega Bay fisherman Tony Anello, whose entire family is invested in the local fishery as the owners of two commercial vessels and proprietors of Spud Point Crab Co. “It looks better than it has been.”
The Sonoma Coast district, known as the San Francisco cell, runs between Pescadero in San Mateo County and Point Arena on the southern Mendocino Coast.
The sport season opening dates already have been announced. They are Saturday, April 6, from Pigeon Point, just north of Santa Cruz, south to Mexico, and Saturday, April 13, from Pigeon Point to Horse Mountain, just north of Eureka in Humboldt County.
The commercial salmon season has long been a mainstay of the North Coast fishery, with king salmon running so plentifully in the region they were practically legendary.
But environmental damage, development, logging and demand on streams and rivers where the juvenile anadromous fish spend their first year has taken a toll on salmon stocks over the decades, along, more recently, with changing ocean conditions and years of record drought.
After chinook salmon stocks crashed a decade ago, resulting in complete closure of the fishery in 2008 and ’09, the fleet enjoyed a comeback in 2013, thanks to substantial rain in the winter of 2010-11 that allowed juvenile fish making the journey downstream to the ocean that year to survive, despite “being lousy swimmers” subject to predation or stranding if there is insufficient flow, said John McManus, president of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
That year the commercial fleet landed an impressive 3.8 million pounds of salmon statewide, including 639,000 pounds in Bodega Bay valued off the boat at $3.8 million, and 1.4 million pounds in Fort Bragg with an ex-vessel value of $7.7 million, according to California Fish and Wildlife data.
That “was the last really good year,” McManus said.
Last year’s total statewide catch was about 900,000 pounds valued at $8.39 million.
The Sacramento River fall run of chinook, which supplies the bulk of the fish caught off San Francisco and the Sonoma Coast, technically remains in need of rebuilding because of three consecutive years in which too few fish returned upstream to spawn, missing mandated targets intended to ensure sustainability of the fishery. So even though greater abundance has been forecast that could allow more than the 73 days allowed in the local fishing district year, there will be some constraints to allow for increased spawner returns.
Concerns about several other salmon stocks, including the Klamath River fall run chinook and federally protected Sacramento River winter chinook and California Coastal chinook, could prompt regulators to impose additional restrictions.
But “we’re cautiously optimistic,” McManus said. “We got really good rain in the spring of 2017, and that greatly boosted survival of juvenile salmon as they were exiting the Central Valley at that time. These are the same fish that are now adults we could be catching this year.”
A public hearing on the alternative season schedules will be held in Ukiah at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Hampton Inn Grand Ballroom, 1160 Airport Park Blvd. Further information is available at pcouncil.org.