Thanks to Western Outdoor News, we learned that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife kills thousands of salmon returning to the Feather River Hatchery.
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So far the state fish folks have killed off 20,000 salmon, which they give to Indian groups and charitable organizations. The 20,000 figure comes from a state fisheries official.
Why the kill-off? Because the hatchery only keeps 2,500 to spawn. The hatchery is there to make up for the fact that Oroville Dam collects water from all three forks of the Feather River, blocking salmon from migrating. The hatchery is between the dam and the afterbay.
Salmon season on the Feather River just opened Tuesday, but the fish have already been surging upstream, as evidenced by the DFW.
The question posed by Western Outdoor News is why not let sports fishermen and women catch some of these “excess” Feather River salmon with a special limited season before the July 16 opener?
Our question would be, with everybody worried about the salmon count, why isn’t DFW hatching more salmon on the Feather River? The fishery officials are trying to separate spring, fall and winter-run salmon.
“Before the advent of the dam, spring-run salmon would come in early, move much further upstream and spawn in the cooler waters that were available. Now that the dams are in place, they can no longer move upstream and must share the limited spawning grounds with fall-run salmon, a genetically distinct race from the spring run. By culling these fish in between the runs of spring and fall salmon, you can eliminate that overlap and keep spring-run genetically pure and not lose that identity to hybridization with fall-run,” the department’s Robert Vincik told Jack Phelps in an e-mail response to the owner of River Reflections RV Park in Oroville.
But as Western Outdoor News Editor Bill Karr told the Mountain Democrat, “There hasn’t been a pure salmon in 100 years.”
We count Karr as a pretty informed person about fish and game issues. Besides receiving reports from writers, guides and experts out in the field, Karr gets out in the field himself and does a lot of fishing and hunting to keep his bona fides as an outdoorsman as part of his job.
“A couple of years ago, salmon populations (along with several other fish species) crashed, prompting the closure of salmon fishing for two years. The prevailing theory is the crash was caused by unfavorable ocean conditions causing a decline in the survival of juveniles in the ocean,” Vincik wrote. “This is one more environmental factor that must be considered in the management and regulations of salmon stocks, putting more fish into the system does not always mean better survival, especially if there is not the habitat to support the extra fish.”
Vincik is right about ocean conditions affecting juvenile salmon. It was University of Washington researchers studying salmon in the ocean who discovered the Pacific Decadal Oscillation in 1997. That 20-30 cycle sees warm and cool pools switch between the western and eastern Pacific, affecting Pacific Coast salmon and weather patterns.
An additional affect is the El Nino.
“Usually, the wind blows strongly from east to west along the equator in the Pacific. This actually piles up water (about half a meter’s worth) in the western part of the Pacific. In the eastern part, deeper water (which is colder than the sun-warmed surface water) gets pulled up from below to replace the water pushed west. So, the normal situation is warm water (about 30 C) in the west, cold (about 22 C) in the east,” according to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s Climate Prediction Center Website.
“In an El Niño, the winds pushing that water around get weaker. As a result, some of the warm water piled up in the west slumps back down to the east, and not as much cold water gets pulled up from below. Both these tend to make the water in the eastern Pacific warmer, which is one of the hallmarks of an El Niño,” Scripps wrote in its layman’s explanation.
An El Nino can last two years and recur every three to seven years.
Studies have shown that salmon grow faster and fatter when the Yolo Bypass is flooded and they migrate through that nutrient rich environment.
There is a lot more to be learned about salmon and what can be done to increase the number of salmon returning. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife can start by letting anglers who finance the department with fishing licenses be allowed to help cull fish in a special early season salmon catch below the hatchery on the Feather River. Secondly, the department should increase the number of salmon spawned in the hatchery.
And thirdly, the state should start investing in fish ladders instead of forcing Central Valley farmers into artificial drought conditions.