River Watch Header Image

On Low Salmon Returns

To All,

On my note (included below) to groups and individuals on the subject of low salmon returns I was properly reminded by my friend Brian Hines that the conditions for these low returns, as presented by me, failed to account for poor ocean conditions and potential global warming effects.

It is true. All of these elements have an effect on salmon survival – we need both productive ocean conditions that will bring the fish back, fat and happy – and – we need spawning and rearing habitat in our rivers to will sustain salmon in their various life stages.

This does not mean that hatchery practices do not have an effect – and ditto for predation by bass in the Bay Delta (see notes below)?

Alan:
How are we going to improve conditions? Three ways:

1) The Public Trust Doctrine.

2) The Clean Water Act.

3) The Endangered Species Act.

— Brian

Brian,
I agree with your take on this. We need,both, an ocean with conditions to support salman – and – reviers that support spawing and survival of youg (during those life stages).

The question is; how do we get this to happen?

Alan:
I have always resisted claims, “It’s the Ocean Conditions!” made by spoilers of watershed habitat. It sounds kind of like, “It’s those damn seals!”. But now we really have to start looking at the ocean conditions when the salmon meat turns white from lack of krill and populations from good watersheds drop like Lagunitas. When people used to say “It’s Ocean Conditions!” I would say, “That’s funny, Lagunitas had a normal run of 500 Coho last year. I wonder what ocean they were swimming in?”

— Brian

Brian,

I think ocean conditions play a big role.

On the Sacto – Why now? Why not before now?

The smaller coastal rivers all went down in one big wumpf (short time frame) – after many years of obuse. It was not all that gradual.

Alan:
Don’t forget Climate Change and its negative effect on upwelling off the Pacific Coast. A very scary prospect if it continues. When the wild Lagunitas Coho returns go down we have to look at ocean conditions and what happened in the watershed when this year class was spawning (winter 04/05) and rearing in 05 and 06.

— Brian

Brian,
Low salmon run returns have been reported up and down the coast for both coho and chinook (King).

A hole in the Marin county returns is a bad sign for coho.

On the Sacramento the low chinook returns are making DFG and the SWRCB nervous. The causal factors for this fishery collapse can be many – or – cumulative. Large amounts of water diverted from the Bay Delta is one reason often pointed at. Another reason pointed at by Ag is the maintenance of large bass populations in the Delta. The bass love to eat the millions of chinook salmon fingerlings dumped in the delta every year. The finger also can be pointed out to loss of spawning habitat.

The one issue that is rarely mentioned is the reliance on hatchery fish for the Sacto salmon run. For many years DFG has dumped millions upon millions of hatchery raised fish in the delta. Hatchery fish are genetically and physically weak. Hatchery monoculture progeny are subject to disease and lacking genetically disposed skills for feeding and survival in various conditions. The hatchery fish, if they do return, compete with wild fish and alter wild fish genetics – thus imposing limiting factors on wild fish survival where enough problems already exist.

This hatchery problem extends to coho also – but to a somewhat lesser extent – as the practices are done on such a smaller scale. Coho salmon need specific conditions for survival. If these conditions are altered – removal of riparian shade, warm water, and silted spawning gravels all will limit coho production, return, and survival.

Alan

Alan Levine