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Salmon Returns Down At Coleman, Up at Other Central Valley Hatcheries


by Dan Bacher

January 13, 2010 -- In the coming weeks, biologists will be compiling the statistics on the 2009 fall-run Chinook salmon returns on Central Valley rivers as the state and federal fishery agencies prepare to develop the fishing regulations for the 2010 salmon season.
Based on preliminary estimates, Sacramento River Chinook salmon counts for the fall of 2009 are down and could be headed to another all time low, according to Dick Pool, administrator of Water for Fish.
The numbers of fish that returned to Coleman National Fish Hatchery, the Central Valleys largest salmon producer, were down considerably from even last year's dismal run, while salmon numbers were up from 2008 at the Nimbus, Feather River and Mokelumne River fish hatcheries. The complete numbers of salmon that spawned naturally in the rivers, based on carcass surveys, are not available yet.
State water mismanagement continues to spiral the populations downward," said Pool. It is clear that the over pumping of water from the California Delta and the failure to protect fish in the state's water policies are to blame. A 2010 salmon fishing season is in question again."
In 2008, a record low of only 66,000 fall-run salmon returned to the Sacramento, American, Feather and Yuba rivers and their tributaries. The minimum escapement for long term sustainability of these fish is 122,000 and the fall 2009 run could be as low as 60,000 fish, Pool said.
The salmon fishing season was closed in ocean waters off California and most of Oregon in 2008, due to the collapse of Central Valley fall salmon. In 2009, the season was again closed off California and southern Oregon, with the exception of a 10 day season off the North Coast in late August and early September.
Salmon fishing in all Central Valley rivers was also closed both years, with the exception of a selective fishery for late fall run Chinook salmon for 2 months in 2008 and 6 weeks in 2009 in the Sacramento River from Red Bluff to Knights Landing.
The closures have led to the loss of 23,000 jobs in coastal communities and the Central Valley, according to economic data from the American Sportfishing Association.
Only 8,300 Chinooks returned this fall to Battle Creek, a major tributary of the Sacramento River, in contrast to about 14,000 last year, according to Coleman National Fish Hatchery manager Scott Hamelburg. The hatchery, located on the creek, received 5500 adults and 700 jacks (two-year-old salmon) in the fall of 2009, compared to 10,000 fish, a total of jacks and adults, in 2008.
Our annual production target is 12,000,000 fish, but this year we will be a tad short with about 11,300,000 fish - if everything goes right for the rest of the rearing season, said Hamelburg. We originally estimated our release numbers would only be 10,00000 smolts, but we definitely saw more eggs per fish this year.
The return of salmon to Nimbus Fish Hatchery on the American River is better than last fall although there were considerably more males than females in 2009. The hatchery received 4064 adult Chinooks and 631 jacks and jills in 2009, compared to 2836 adults and 348 jacks in 2008.
We trapped just under 1600 males and 1300 females last season and 3,000 males and 1100 females this season, said Bob Burks, Nimbus Fish Hatchery manager. We probably have a few less eggs than last season, but the fertility of the eggs we have taken is really good and I expect to see no problem reaching our production goal of 4,000,000 Chinook smolts.
The Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville received a total of 9,931 Chinooks in the fall of 2009, including 6208 adults and 3723 jacks and jills, a much better count than last autumn, said Anna Kastner, hatchery manager.
The facility took 5031 adult chinooks and 209 jacks in 2008. The hatchery expects to meet their production goal of 8,000,000 salmon smolts.
The Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery returns were better this fall also. The hatchery received 334 males, 391 females and 823 jacks and jills, for a total of 1548 salmon, compared to only 235 fish in 2008/2009. The hatchery has taken a total of 2,447,102 eggs to date, well below the goal of their goal of 5.8 million eggs, but a contrast with the 262,000 eggs taken last year.
A record number of salmon, 16,128, returned to the Mokelumne in 2005, so this season's count of 1548 fish, although an improvement over last year's run, is dismal by comparison.
Biological Opinion Under Attack
In a related issue, the National Marine Fisheries Service biological opinion on salmon is under attack by corporate agribusiness and the Schwarzenegger administration. In June NMFS issued its new biological opinion on imperiled Sacramento River winter and spring run Chinook salmon, steelhead, green sturgeon and offshore Orca killer whales. The agency also issued its Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives which require the offending agencies to correct the conditions that put the fish in jeopardy of extinction.
The Delta pumping operations and Central Valley dam operations received most of the blame for the fishery losses, according to Pool. The NMFS alternatives require changes in pumping regimes, as well as changes in the dam operations so these species don't get pushed over the abyss of extinction.
Westlands Water District and other San Joaquin Valley water interests have filed 13 lawsuits in an effort to overturn the opinion and stop salmon recovery. Corporate agribusiness also funded a massive "Astroturf" public relations program blaming the biological opinions for salmon and Delta smelt for the water shortages and unemployment of farmworkers.
The truth is that most of the farmworkers that were unemployed are suffering because of the drought and the economy, according to Pool.
A report written by Jeffrey Michael, University of the Pacific economist, backs up Pool's contention that most of the farm unemployment wasn't caused by reductions in pumping to protect endangered fish. Michael estimates that the San Joaquin Valley lost 8,500 jobs from reduced water exports in 2009. "Roughly 2,000 of these are attributable to the endangered Delta smelt and the rest to the natural drought," said Michael (http://forecast.pacific.edu/water-jobs/Pacific-BFC-Water-Jobs.pdf).
However, Pool emphasized that agribusiness and its political allies now have a proposal before Congress to bypass the Endangered Species Act protections for the Delta.
"This legislation would be fatal to our fisheries and we must fight it," said Pool. "Water4Fish and the salmon fisheries industry coalition are fighting hard for the science-based biological opinion. Please support these efforts every way you can."
Meanwhile, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Feinstein and corporate agribusiness are pushing for the construction of a peripheral canal and more dams to expedite water exports to corporate agribusiness and southern California. The California Legislature, under the leadership of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, passed a water policy-water bond package in November that fish and environmental justice advocates believe clears a path to the construction of a peripheral canal and more dams.
If you want to see a power packed summary of the political attacks on salmon, Pool urged that you log onto http://www.vimeo.com/8245848.
Salmon Water Now! has also just released "The Water Pirates," (10 minutes), now available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwqVc8Hbmqk&fmt=18 or Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/8521134. Other videos that provide excellent coverage of the salmon plight are available on the Salmon Water Now website: http://www.salmonwaternow.org.
For updates on the salmon crisis and what you can do to help, visit the Water4Fish booths at the San Mateo and Sacramento International Sportsmen's Expositions. You can sign petitions, pick up literature or bumper stickers and see the three minute political action video. San Mateo runs Jan 14 - 17 and Sacramento runs Jan 21 - 24.
On Saturday Jan 23 in Sacramento, the annual Fishermen's Forum and press conference will be held at 1:30 in the Outdoor Sportsmen's Theater. For more information, go to http://www.water4fish.org.