Under the cover of darkness last night, officials transported over 22,000 baby “winter run” chinook salmon to the Sacramento River to release them into the wild. The salmon were raised at the Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery near the Shasta Dam.
The release did not garner a ton of attention but was an important event in the health of salmon populations in Northern California. The “winter run” chinook salmon are endangered and officials are hoping their efforts will help revive the populations.
The “winter run” salmon were released at night during heavy flows to help the babies avoid predators and make their long and dangerous trek to the Pacific Ocean. They are called “winter run” salmon due to their entry into the Pacific Ocean around mid-December every year. Following years in the ocean, they will return to their spawning location upstream on the Sacramento River.
Historically, winter-run Chinook Salmon spawned in the upper reaches of Sacramento River tributaries, including the McCloud, Pit, and Little Sacramento Rivers. Shasta and Keswick dams now block access to the historic spawning areas. Winter-run Chinook, however, were able to take advantage of cool summer water releases downstream of Keswick Dam.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s the population recovered. However, beginning in 1970, the population experienced a dramatic decline — a low of approximately 200 spawners by the 1980’s. The run was classified as endangered under the state California Endangered Species Act in 1989, and as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1994.