Eight truckloads full of a million juvenile chinook salmon were released into the Sacramento River just north of Sacramento on Wednesday. The event was a culmination of hundreds of hours of work from biologists and Department of Fish and Wildlife officials but has left some fishermen conflicted.
The release of the salmon is universally celebrated by anglers and officials alike. That’s not the problem. The problem lies within the location of the release.
These salmon were spawned at the base of the Oroville Dam at the Feather River Hatchery following a concerted effort to replenish the waterways near the Oroville Dam with salmon runs. Although salmon have an innate ability to find and return to the place where they spawned, moving them 70 miles downstream to release them could make it more difficult for the salmon to return to spawn in the future.
Anglers had urged state officials to release these juvenile salmon into the Feather River below the Oroville Dam during ideal conditions, like they did with a million other juvenile chinook salmon earlier this year. But officials said the salmon weren’t ready and they refused to release more water from the Oroville Dam due to water storage issues.
So with Feather River conditions not ideal, they moved the release downstream, possibly confusing the fish who survive their trip to the Pacific Ocean and return to lay their eggs at their spawning grounds upstream.
So the questions remains… Is it worth raising and releasing a million salmon if you don’t set them up for success in the future? Long story short – state officials have chosen water storage over fish preservation.
The Nor-Cal Guides Sportsman Association asked the Department of Water Resources to release some of the million salmon in the Feather River. The DWR refused.
This all started with the Oroville Dam crisis in 2017, when the spillway collapsed, killing thousands of salmon in the process. Following the crisis, local fishing groups pressured officials to raise more fish this year to make up for those lost during the collapse.
The DWR agreed to pay Fish and Wildlife around $350,000 to raise an additional 2 million salmon at the Feather River Hatchery below the dam. One million of the salmon were released in the Feather River in March during a “pulse flow,” where more water is released to aid the salmon’s survival from predators.
It remains to be seen how many of the million chinook salmon will survive and return to the Feather River to spawn in the future. But one thing’s for sure – these salmon weren’t put in the best situation for success. Mixed emotions, indeed.