As expected, an almost 35 percent reduction in water releases from Lake Shasta into the upper Sacramento River during the prime salmon spawning month of November has left many salmon nests, or redds, high and dry. This likely killed millions of incubating salmon eggs which is certain to hurt salmon returns in future years.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation reduced water releases into the upper Sacramento River from 6000 cubic feet per second (CFS) on November 1 to 3750 CFS on November 25. Many fall run salmon built redds in October and early November in the shallows during higher water conditions. The river shrunk as reservoir releases dropped leaving some redds full of dead eggs.
“Once salmon have laid their eggs in the river, it’s up to water managers to keep them safely under water until they hatch,” noted Golden Gate Salmon Association Executive Director John McManus. “After all, humans control the amount of water released from upstream reservoirs. Killing the offspring of naturally spawning salmon is what you don’t want to do if your goal is to reduce reliance on hatchery fish and rebuild wild runs. It’s hard to rebuild natural runs when water releases are managed this way.”
GGSA worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and other parties throughout 2013 to avoid this. In early September there was a general agreement to drop the higher flows on or about October 1 many fall run salmon begin spawning. This would allow the fall run to lay their eggs in a water level that could be easily maintained for three months when the eggs hatch and the baby salmon emerge from the gravel.
However several federally protected winter run salmon spawned later than normal in August. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Service, concluded high water must be maintained into early November to protect the winter run eggs. This decision was made knowing that reducing reservoir releases in November would kill at least some of the later spawning fall run offspring. Shrinking the river in November may have also caused loss of juvenile salmon stranded in isolated pools disconnected from the river.
Big drops in November water releases are believed to have cost 15 percent of last year’s fall run eggs and 23 percent from the year before.
GGSA calls on the Bureau of Reclamation to expand its current year-ahead water planning to account for the needs of all Sacramento River salmon, both ESA listed and non-listed runs. The Bureau needs to provide adequate flows for fall run salmon spawning, incubation and emergence and for water released in the spring needed to flush juvenile salmon out of the river and delta system.
Conditions are different every year and GGSA will be working in 2014 to protect next year’s spawn.
GGSA is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants, tribes, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GGSA’s mission is to protect and restore California’s largest salmon producing habitat comprised of the Central Valley river’s that feed the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the communities that rely on salmon as a long-term, sustainable, commercial, recreational and cultural resource.
Currently, California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity annually and about half that much in economic activity and jobs again in Oregon. The industry employs tens of thousands of people from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This is a huge economic bloc made up of commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and the salmon fishing industry at large.