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Over 300,000 salmon returned to Klamath River in 2012
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Feb 20th, 2013 5:15 PM
The escapement to natural spawning areas on the Klamath River was 122,018 adults, 1.4 times the preseason prediction of 86,300. The estimated hatchery return was 55,939 adults. Jack (two-year-old) returns to the Klamath Basin totaled 21,473, including 15,705 that escaped to natural spawning areas.

Photo of the Klamath River below Iron Gate Dam by Dan Bacher.
Over 300,000 salmon returned to Klamath River in 2012

by Dan Bacher

A record run of 302,108 fall adult Chinook salmon returned to the Klamath River in 2012, while 283,871 adult salmon came back to the Sacramento River.

The preliminary estimates of adult and jack (two-year-old) spawning escapements (returns) to the two river systems were recently released on the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) website. The “Review of 2012 Ocean Salmon Fisheries" is available at:

The data will be used in the crafting of recreational and commercial seasons on the California and Oregon coasts in 2013, as well as the recreational and tribal fishing seasons on the Klamath and Trinity Rivers and the recreational fishing season on the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne rivers. The data is compiled by the state, federal and tribal fishery agencies.

The Yurok Tribe has commercial and subsistence fisheries on the Klamath River, while the Hoopa Valley Tribe has a subsistence fishery on the Trinity River.

The preliminary data was released as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) gets ready for its salmon status update and outlook meeting on Thursday, Feb. 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd. in Santa Rosa.

In spite of being a record run, the actual numbers of total fish returning to the Klamath were 78,892 fish less than the pre-season forecast. The preliminary postseason river run size estimate for Klamath River Fall Run Chinook (KRFC) was 302,108 adults, compared to the preseason-predicted ocean escapement (river run size) of 381,000 adults, according to the PFMC.

That was the largest number recorded since 1978 when the PFMC began compiling the data. The previous largest run was 187,333 adults in 2001.

The escapement to natural spawning areas was 122,018 adults, 1.4 times the preseason prediction of 86,300. The estimated hatchery return was 55,939 adults. Jack returns to the Klamath Basin totaled 21,473, including 15,705 that escaped to natural spawning areas.

Spawning escapement to the upper Klamath River tributaries – the Salmon, Scott, and Shasta Rivers - where spawning was only minimally affected by hatchery strays, totaled 38,723 adults.

“The Shasta River has historically been the most important Chinook salmon spawning stream in the upper Klamath River, supporting a spawning escapement of 30,700 adults as recently as 1964, and 63,700 in 1935,” the PFMC said. “The escapement in 2012 to the Shasta River was 27,593 adults, which is the highest adult escapement since 1964. Escapement to the Salmon and Scott Rivers was 3,561 and 7,569 adults, respectively.”

"While this year's fall Chinook salmon was a welcome change from the sporadic runs of the past several decades, the river remains in serious trouble," according to a statement from Yurok Tribe fisheries biologists. The biologists attribute this year's out-size run of king salmon to three main scientific factors.

First, in 2010, when all of these salmon were at the most critical stage of their development, the basin experienced plentiful spring rains, giving the juvenile fish access to the best rearing tributaries.

Second, ocean conditions were phenomenal. Krill, the foundation of the food chain, were abnormally abundant, giving salmon in the ocean a better shot at making it back to the river to spawn.

Third, the Tribe has spent millions of dollars over the past two decades restoring several key Klamath tributaries where many salmon start life.

"We will have a decent run next year because a large percentage of 4-year-old fish will return, but after that it will go back to the unacceptable path of uncertainty about whether there will even be a harvestable number of fish," according to the scientists.

A broad coalition of Tribes, fishing groups and environmental organizations is working on a campaign to remove four PacifiCorp Dams to bring back the salmon to the Klamath River and its tributaries above Iron Gate Dam.

Sacramento salmon returns exceeded 2012 goal, but federal law still violated

State and federal fishery biologists estimated that a total of 283,871 hatchery and natural area fall run Chinook adults returned to the Sacramento River basin for spawning in 2012. While this number exceeded the escapement goal of 245,800 hatchery and natural area adults, it is still 171,979 fish below the forecasted hatchery and natural area adult escapement of 455,800.

Recreational angling for salmon in Central Valley rivers was expected to yield a catch of 74,200 adult fall Chinooks. The actual harvest of these fish in 2012 Central Valley river fisheries totaled 62,189 adults.

Fall Chinook returns to Sacramento River hatcheries in 2012 totaled 120,956 adults, while escapement to natural areas was 162,915 adults. “Available data indicate hatchery-produced fish constitute a large portion of the Sacramento River naturally spawning fall Chinook population,” the PFMC noted.

The estimated escapement to natural areas was 66,771 adults and 7,453 jacks on the Sacramento River, 57,507 adults and 6,142 jacks on the Feather River, 5,981 adults and 1,687 jacks on the Yuba River and 32,656 adults and 2,244 jacks on the American River. The Coleman National Fish Hatchery reported 76,304 adults and 7,786 jacks, the Feather River Fish Hatchery reported 33,628 adults and 8,533 jacks and Nimbus Fish Hatchery reported 11,024 adults and 1,660 jacks.

While the Sacramento salmon returns exceeded those of the previous year's, the state and federal governments continue to violate the landmark Central Valley Project Improvement Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush in the fall of 1992. The law set a goal of doubling the Bay-Delta watershed’s Chinook salmon runs from 495,000 to 990,000 wild adult fish by 2002. The legislation also mandated the doubling of other anadromous fish species, including Central Valley steelhead, white sturgeon, green sturgeon, striped bass and American shad, by 2002.

According to a salmon index released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) in November 2012, the Central Valley Chinook salmon fishery has suffered a dramatic collapse over the past decade, now standing at only 13 percent of the population goal required by federal law. The analysis revealed a steady decline in Bay-Delta Chinook salmon from 2003 through 2010, at which point it reached a record low of 7 percent. (

While the state and federal governments claimed that ocean conditions prompted the decline, fishing and environmental groups pointed to increased water diversions as a significant cause of this decline. Between 2000 and 2006, freshwater pumping from the Bay-Delta increased 20 percent in comparison to 1975-2000. The record water export year was 2005 until a new record was set in 2011 under the Brown and Obama administrations.

The winter run Chinook, another victim of decades of massive water exports out of the California Delta, continues its struggle to survive. Spawner escapement of endangered winter Chinook salmon in 2012 was estimated to be 2,529 adults and 145 jacks.

Escapement of spring Chinook to the Sacramento River system in 2012 totaled 22,432 fish (jacks and adults). An estimated 18,694 fish, returned to upper Sacramento River tributaries, including Butte, Chico, Battle and other creeks, while the remaining 3,738 fish returned to the Feather River Hatchery. The majority of fish, 16,139, returned to Butte Creek.

The estimated San Joaquin River fall Chinook spawning escapement in 2012 totaled only 13,714 jacks and adults in natural areas and 7,557 jacks and adults to hatcheries.

CDFW public meeting on salmon set for February 28

Meanwhile, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) invites the public to attend its upcoming annual salmon status update and outlook meeting.

This year’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd. in Santa Rosa. The possible seasons for 2013 California ocean and river salmon fisheries will be discussed. “

“The meeting will provide the latest information on California salmon escapement in 2012 and the outlook for sport and commercial ocean salmon fisheries during the coming season,” according to the Department. “The public is encouraged to provide input to a panel of California salmon scientists, managers and representatives, many of whom will be directly involved in the upcoming Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meetings in March and April.”

Salmon fishing seasons are developed through a collaborative regulatory process involving the PFMC, the California Fish and Game Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The input will help California representatives negotiate a broad range of season alternatives during the PFMC March 6-11 meeting in Tacoma, Wash.

The 2013 Salmon Information Meeting marks the beginning of the two-month long public management and regulatory process used to establish this year’s sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing seasons. A list of additional meetings and other opportunities for public comment is available on the ocean salmon webpage,