A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist handles salmon at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery, near Shasta Lake, in June 2015. Dwindling salmon populations have complicated water allocations during the drought. Randall Benton SACRAMENTO BEE FILE

Drought’s grim death toll: California says endangered salmon perished in Sacramento River

Jan 3, 2022 at 3:55pm


Amid a brutal heat wave and a worsening drought, California’s wildlife agency made a dire prediction in July: “Nearly all” of an endangered salmon species’ juvenile population was likely to be cooked to death on the Sacramento River in 2021. It turned out to be true. Only an estimated 2.6% of the winter-run Chinook salmon juvenile population survived the hot, dry summer, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said. The fate of the winter-run salmon has profound implications for California’s chronically overtaxed water supplies, even as recent rain and snowpack levels suggest the drought might be easing. Environmental restrictions aimed at propping up the fish populations could deprive cities and farmers of water deliveries this year.

At the same time, fishermen and environmentalists say the salmon’s pitiful survival rate, among the lowest on record, is a disaster that should have been prevented – and raises questions about California’s and the Biden Administration’s commitment to the environment. Regulators, however, said the survival figures reflect the severity of one of the worst droughts ever, as well as other factors.

The massive fish kill, unveiled in a New Year’s Eve letter to the federal government, came in spite of warnings that a catastrophe was coming. Last spring the National Marine Fisheries Service said the survival rate could be as low as 12%. Then the Department of Fish and Wildlife said it could be worse, predicting that “nearly all” of the juveniles were at risk. Environmentalists argue the massive fish kill was caused by state and federal mismanagement of the river last spring.

The winter-run salmon – which actually spawns in the heat of summer in a small stretch of the Sacramento River in Redding – has been listed as endangered since 1994 by the federal government. Because they have just a three-year spawning cycle, environmentalists and regulators fear a single disastrous season could put the salmon on the brink of extinction in the wild. At this point, the winter-run is now almost entirely kept alive by workers at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who collect eggs and sperm from a few of the adults that make their way up the base of Shasta Dam to spawn.

Continue reading the article from The Sacramento Bee here