[env-trinity] New York Times March 17

Byron bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Mar 17 09:30:21 PDT 2008

 <http://www.nytimes.com> New York Times


Chinook Salmon Vanish Without a Trace 

Noah Berger/Associated Press

Tim Calvert, a fisherman, in San Francisco. The scarcity of Chinook salmon
may keep the Pacific fishery closed for the season. 



Published: March 17, 2008

SACRAMENTO - Where did they go?

yspaper&oref=slogin#secondParagraph#secondParagraph> Skip to next paragraph 

The New York Times

The Chinook journey up and down the Sacramento River. 

The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust
run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse
of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska
left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations - and
coming up dry.

Whatever the cause, there was widespread agreement among those attending a
five-day meeting of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council here last week
that the regional $150 million fishery, which usually opens for the
four-month season on May 1, is almost certain to remain closed this year
from northern
ns/oregon/index.html?inline=nyt-geo> Oregon to the Mexican border. A final
decision on salmon fishing in the area is expected next month.

As a result, Chinook, or king salmon, the most prized species of Pacific
wild salmon, will be hard to come by until the Alaskan season opens in July.
Even then, wild Chinook are likely to be very expensive in markets and
restaurants nationwide.

"It's unprecedented that this fishery is in this kind of shape," said Donald
McIsaac, executive director of the council, which is organized under the
auspices of the Commerce Department. 

Fishermen think the Sacramento River was mismanaged in 2005, when this
year's fish first migrated downriver. Perhaps, they say, federal and state
water managers drained too much water or drained at the wrong time to serve
the state's powerful agricultural interests and cities in arid Southern
California. The fishermen think the fish were left susceptible to disease,
or to predators, or to being sucked into diversion pumps and left to die in
irrigation canals.

But federal and state fishery managers and biologists point to the highly
unusual ocean conditions in 2005, which may have left the fingerling salmon
with little or none of the rich nourishment provided by the normal upwelling
currents near the shore.

The life cycle of these fall run Chinook salmon takes them from their birth
and early weeks in cold river waters through a downstream migration that
deposits them in the San Francisco Bay when they are a few inches long, and
then as their bodies adapt to saltwater through a migration out into the
ocean, where they live until they return to spawn, usually three years

One species of Sacramento salmon, the winter run Chinook, is protected under
the Endangered Species Act. But their meager numbers have held steady and
appear to be unaffected by whatever ails the fall Chinook.

So what happened? As Dave Bitts, a fisherman based in Eureka in Northern
California, sees it, the variables are simple. "To survive, there are two
things a salmon needs," he said. "To eat. And not to be eaten."

Fragmentary evidence about salmon mortality in the Sacramento River in
recent years, as well as more robust but still inconclusive data about ocean
conditions in 2005, indicates that the fall Chinook smolts, or baby fish, of
2005 may have lost out on both counts. But biologists, fishermen and fishery
managers all emphasize that no one yet knows anything for sure.

Bill Petersen, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration's research center in Newport, Ore., said other stocks of
anadromous Pacific fish - those that migrate from freshwater to saltwater
and back - had been anemic this year, leading him to suspect ocean changes.

After studying changes in the once-predictable pattern of the Northern
Pacific climate, Mr. Petersen found that in 2005 the currents that rise from
the deeper ocean, bringing with them nutrients like phytoplankton and krill,
were out of sync. "Upwelling usually starts in April and goes until
September," he said. "In 2005, it didn't start until July."

Mr. Petersen's hypothesis about the salmon is that "the fish that went to
sea in 2005 died a few weeks after getting to the ocean" because there was
nothing to eat. A couple of years earlier, when the oceans were in a
cold-weather cycle, the opposite happened - the upwelling was very rich. The
smolts of that year were later part of the largest run of fall Chinook ever

But, Mr. Petersen added, many factors may have contributed to the loss of
this season's fish.

Bruce MacFarlane, another NOAA researcher who is based in Santa Cruz, has
started a three-year experiment tagging young salmon - though not from the
fall Chinook run - to determine how many of those released from the large
Coleman hatchery, 335 miles from the Sacramento River's mouth, make it to
the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the first year's data, only 4 of 200
reached the bridge.

Mr. MacFarlane said it was possible that a diversion dam on the upper part
of the river, around Redding and Red Bluff, created calm and deep waters
that are "a haven for predators," particularly the pike minnow.

Farther downstream, he said, young salmon may fall prey to striped bass.
There are also tens of thousands of pipes, large and small, attached to
pumping stations that divert water.

Jeff McCracken, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which is
among the major managers of water in the Sacramento River delta, said that
in the last 18 years, significant precautions have been taken to keep fish
from being taken out of the river through the pipes. 

"We've got 90 percent of those diversions now screened," Mr. McCracken said.
He added that two upstream dams had been removed and that the removal of
others was planned. At the diversion dam in Red Bluff, he said, "we've
opened the gates eight months a year to allow unimpeded fish passage."

Bureau of Reclamation records show that annual diversions of water in 2005
were about 8 percent above the 12-year average, while diversions in June,
the month the young Chinook smolts would have headed downriver, were roughly
on par with what they had been in the mid-1990s.

Peter Dygert, a NOAA representative on the fisheries council, said, "My
opinion is that we won't have a definitive answer that clearly indicates
this or that is the cause of the decline." 



Byron Leydecker

Friends of Trinity River, Chair

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810

415 519 4810 cell

415 383 9562 fax

bwl3 at comcast.net

bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org (secondary)




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