Editorial: Want Salmon

Editorial: Want salmon? Transport them!

Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Feb 09, 2018

As noted elsewhere in this issue of WON, a new study clearly shows that barging or trucking salmon smolts from the hatcheries to a location farther downriver, or even to the Golden Gate, results in double the number of surviving salmon returns.

The 2017 estimated ocean recoveries of 2-year-old salmon are telling: Fish released from the Feather River Hatchery in-river were 9,064,000 and 10,752 were recovered, for a 0.1186 percent return. The Nimbus Hatchery on the American River released 4,160,000 smolts, and 2,488 were recovered for a 0.0598 percent recovery. The Coleman National Fish Hatchery on Battle Creek off the upper Sacramento released a whopping 12,136,000 smolts, of which only 2,220 were recovered for a 0.0183 percent recovery.

The little Mokelumne River Hatchery, however, tried something different and barged their smolts to various downriver locations and the Golden Gate, resulting is nearly double the return of any of the other hatcheries. They released 6,560,000 smolts and 14,137 were recovered, a rate of 0.2155 percent!

With this information in hand, it is apparent that our yearly salmon runs can be far more consistent year after year, despite any variation in flows in the Sacramento River needed to help in-river escapement, or depredation from predator fish in the river. Downriver trucking or barging takes the smolts around and past the majority of depredation.

In the past, it was feared that by trucking or barging, the smolts might not return to their river of origin, but now it’s known that it only takes 90 days for smolts to imprint, so that problem is now moot.

Standing to benefit here are every user and industry based on fishing, and salmon fishing in particular, whether it be the Mom & Pop Bait Shop along the Sacramento River, party boats or the commercial salmon fleet up and down the California coastline. And, of course, the tens of thousands of salmon anglers who enjoy catching and eating salmon. The money spent on salmon fishing is a big chunk of California’s economy.

Imagine being able to know that year after year, we can count on a big salmon return without being quite so concerned about the vagueries of rainfall and river flows! This, of course, does not mean we still don’t need to maintain dependable flows in our rivers and through the Delta, because we do. But a dependable number of smolts getting to the ocean at least ensures a dependable number of adult salmon in the ocean and returning to the rivers, and that’s a very positive thing.

The California Department of Fish and Game took a big step towards achieving the goal of improving salmon survival by planting 1,250,000 Feather River smolts at Fort Baker just inside the Golden Gate last year, and we urge them to continue the practice with even more — if not all — hatchery smolts.

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