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American River hatchery salmon numbers improve over last year
by Dan Bacher
Sunday Nov 28th, 2010 11:14 AM
Although the hatchery counts are up from last year, the question remains whether the numbers of wild and naturally spawning fish are on the upswing also. Department of Fish and Game crews will be doing salmon carcass surveys on the American, Feather, Sacramento and Mokelumne rivers through December to record the number of salmon that naturally spawned in the river, so we probably won't find out until January how well wild and naturally spawning chinooks fared on the Central Valley rivers.

American River hatchery salmon numbers improve over last year

by Dan Bacher

The numbers of salmon trapped at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery on the American River are about four times of those trapped last fall to date.

As of November 12, the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) hatchery has trapped 3,245 adult chinooks and 555 jacks, according to Bob Burks, hatchery manager. That compares to 851 adults and 128 jacks last year.

The steelhead numbers are also on the upswing. The hatchery has received 19 steelhead, compared with 8 total to date last year.

However, Burks noted that this year the hatchery staff started spawning fish on November 2, while last year the didn't spawn until November 12.

"We have taken 1.8 million eggs so far, compared with 747,000 last year, " said Burks. "I'm pretty sure we'll make our goal of 5.5 million green eggs so we can produce 4 million salmon smolts."

The improved numbers of salmon at Nimbus correspond with the larger numbers of salmon that have returned to Coleman National Fish Hatchery on Battle Creek, Feather River Fish Hatchery and the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Coleman facility has taken a total of 16,841 adults and approximately 5,000 grilse (two-year-old salmon also known as jacks and jills) as of November 16, according to Brett Galyean, deputy hatchery manager. That compares to 6,551 adult chinooks and 700 grilse last year to date.

Approximately 22,000 total fish, a combination of adults and grilse, have been counted at the weir on Battle Creek so far this season.

"We've taken an estimated 15,000,000 eggs so far, so we should be able to meet our goal of 12,000,000 smolts to be released next year," said Galyean.

The DFG's Feather River Hatchery has trapped 17,157 adult salmon and 2,757 grilse to date, compared to 6,205 adults and 3,722 grilse last year.

The Mokelumne River facility has trapped 1,296 adult chinooks and 1,134 grilse this year to date, compared to 351 adults and 394 grilse last season to date.

Although the hatchery counts are up from last year, the question remains whether the numbers of wild and naturally spawning fish are on the upswing also. Department of Fish and Game crews will be doing salmon carcass surveys on the American, Feather, Sacramento and Mokelumne rivers through December to record the number of salmon that naturally spawned in the river, so we probably won't find out until January how well wild and naturally spawning chinooks fared on the Central Valley rivers.

Fishermen and biologists are hoping that the Sacramento River fall chinook salmon will meet its conservation goal of 180,000 fish this year. Federal biologists forecasted an abundance of 245,000 salmon this year, which allowed the state and federal governments to open limited recreational and commercial salmon fishing seasons on the ocean and short recreational salmon seasons on the Sacramento, Feather and American rivers.

The Sacramento River fall chinook run, the driver of West Coast salmon fisheries, collapsed to a record low population level of 39,530 fish in 2009. While state and federal biologists blame ocean conditions for the collapse, fishing groups, environmental organizations and independent scientists point to massive exports to corporate agribusiness and southern California water agencies and declining water quality as primary factors in the dramatic decline.

The salmon collapse has occurred as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, corporate agribusiness and southern California water agencies are relentlessly pushing for the construction of a peripheral canal/tunnel under the Bay Delta Conservation (BDCP) process. Fishermen, Tribes, family farmers, Delta residents and grassroots environmentalists are engaged in an epic battle to stop the construction of the canal, a $23 to $53.8 billion government boondoggle that they believe is likely to result in the extinction of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations.

Tribes, fishermen and environmentalists are also engaged in efforts to provide fish passage for salmon and steelhead to reopen historic habitat for imperiled wild fish populations. For example, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe is working with the New Zealand government and Maori nation to return the original strain of winter run chinook salmon to the McCloud River above Shasta Dam. The tribe has developed an innovative solution - providing passage for the salmon over the dam by creating a channel connecting Dry Creek, a tributary to Lake Shasta, to a tributary of the Sacramento River, Cow Creek.