California Department of Fish and Game Biologist Dave Killam holds a dead, spawned-out 51-inch Chinook salmon he found a few years ago while conducting surveys after the spawning season in Battle Creek, a tributary to the Sacramento River. It’s estimated the fish would have weighed 88 pounds live – showing the tremendous potential of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Watershed to produce big fish if given a chance.
Last year was a great year for Chinook salmon fishing in California – the best in more than a decade. Certainly better than 2007, when Chinook populations crashed and resulted in a two-year moratorium on salmon fishing. (Are California Salmon Here to Stay?)
This year’s season is looking to be as good, if not better.
In an article published March 5th in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (Optimistic Outlook for Next Salmon Season), writer Sean Scully reports on recently released, promising data regarding fishing and spawning seasons up and down the West Coast, which is used to predict the nature of the upcoming season.
“There are a large number out there and they are doing pretty well . . . I imagine we'll see a pretty good year,” said James Phillips, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Ocean Salmon Project.
But the article does point out “one bleak spot:”
“The continuing decline of the number of Chinook that breed in the Sacramento River and its tributaries during the winter time. That population, or ‘run,’ was once a mainstay of the fisheries along the coast along Sonoma County and below San Francisco, but now lags far behind the fish that spawn in the fall and spring. Fewer than 2,700 of the winter Chinook made it back upriver to spawn in 2012, compared with more than 300,000 in the benchmark fall Chinook run.”
Just as there are many factors influencing good salmon years, including ocean conditions and rainfall, there are also many factors influencing declines in salmon, including urbanization and pollution. But one thing is for certain: The more water that is left in our rivers for fish the better off they will be – and the better the fishing will be.
For those of us who love to catch (and eat) wild salmon here’s a chance to help keep more water in the Sacramento and San Joaquin watershed to ensure fish populations improve and thrive (Reinvesting in California’s Salmon and Steelhead):
The California State Water Resources Control Board is currently in the process of deciding how much flow is required to remain in the lower Tuolumne, Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin Rivers (which joins the Sacramento before flowing into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific) to benefit salmon, steelhead and other aquatic species. The current amount of flow in these rivers is grossly inadequate to protect aquatic resources; in a typical year less than a third of the water flowing in the San Joaquin River watershed makes it downstream to the Bay-Delta estuary. Currently, the Board is hearing from those that want to preserve the status quo. The Board now needs to hear from you.
The Board is considering setting San Joaquin inflows at 35% of unimpaired flow, a mere two percent increase from the 33% that occurs in a typical year. Such a tepid response is simply not enough to prevent the continued decline of the fishery resources in the watershed.