How would you describe the record number of 10,000 steelhead that returned to spawn at the Coleman Fish Hatchery during the 2017-18 season? That’s easy – UNPRECEDENTED.
Since steelhead were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1998, Coleman Fish Hatchery has been dedicated to growing the species of fish for Northern California waterways. In the past 10 years, the largest return of steelhead the hatchery has seen was 3,600 during the 2014-15 season. That number was nearly tripled this season.
Hatchery officials attribute the record number of returns to the wet years in 2016 and 2017. In particular, following the 2016 release of baby steelhead, a large storm hit NorCal, making muddy waters and protecting the fish from predators.
The massive steelhead return puts a lot of pressure on the hatchery, needing a lot of extra staff to deal with the fish, all while the facility was dealing with the Chinook Salmon run. But the staff successfully accommodated all of the fish, setting them up for future large fish runs.
Coleman Fish Hatchery is California’s most productive hatchery, with annual production goals totaling over 13 million. Coleman spawns all of these fish in the Anderson, CA facility and releases them back into the waterways in order to keep steelhead and Chinook salmon populations thriving. Here are the baby steelhead being released into trucks for the drive over to the Sacramento River:
Steelhead return to the hatchery later in the year in order to spawn and are kept in a safe environment until the conditions are perfect. Late in the year, the workers round up the steelhead to begin the spawning process:
The fish are then identified, tagged and primed for spawning:
Once the baby steelhead hatch, they are kept in the facility for a short period of time, where they are carefully fed and prepared for their release into the wild:
Once the steelhead are released into the wild, the process begins all over again!
While the Coleman Fish Hatchery has struggled with Chinook salmon numbers following two bad years during the drought, the steelhead population is thriving. The hatchery is currently spawning Chinook salmon, so go down there to check it out. You can find more information at https://www.fws.gov/coleman/