[env-trinity] Feds Release Spring-Run Chinook Salmon Into San Joaquin River

Dan Bacher danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Tue May 27 07:54:37 PDT 2014

Photo of biologists releasing spring run Chinook salmon from an  
acclimation pen into the San Joaquin River below Hills Herry. Photo  
courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Feds Release Spring-Run Chinook Salmon Into San Joaquin River

by Dan Bacher

The scenic San Joaquin River below Friant Dam has been a popular place  
for families to fish for rainbow trout and other species for years,  
but the river is now in transition to becoming an anadromous fishery  
as federal and state governments and environmental groups work to  
restore spring run-Chinook salmon to the river.

It is expected that by 2017 that spring run Chinooks, absent from the  
river since the building of Friant Dam in the 1940s resulted in the  
dewatering of 60 miles of the river except for in very wet years, will  
again be ascending to spawn in this section of river. At the same  
time, the plants of catchable rainbow trout that the Department of  
Fish and Wildlife made in the river for many years have been  

In a historic moment, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and  
Wildlife Service on April 17 and 18 released 54,000 hatchery-produced  
juvenile spring-run Chinook salmon into the San Joaquin River as part  
of the implementation of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program.

The Restoration Program is a comprehensive long-term effort to restore  
flows to the San Joaquin River from Friant Dam to the confluence of  
the Merced River, restoring a self-sustaining Chinook salmon fishery  
in the river while reducing or avoiding adverse water supply impacts  
from those flows, according to Margaret Gidding of the U.S. Fish and  
Wildlife Service.

The original run of spring Chinooks became extinct, in spite of  
efforts by a brave DFG biologist to rescue the remaining fish. So the  
state had to obtain spring-run Chinooks from the Feather River  
Hatchery in Oroville to release near the confluence of the Merced and  
San Joaquin rivers near Newman to reintroduce the fish subspecies.

Before the fish were released, the juvenile fish were acclimated for  
several days in holding pens in the river below Friant Dam and then  
trucked to the release site, according to Gerald Hatler, California  
Department of Fish and Wildlife Environmental Program Manager. A new  
hatchery to raise spring run chinooks is being built on the property  
adjacent to the San Joaquin River Fish Hatchery.

Federal officials said the release effort will provide an opportunity  
to carryout fisheries studies while contributing to the long-term  
reintroduction of spring-run salmon to the San Joaquin River as called  
for in the San Joaquin River Settlement.

“As part of this effort, some of these juvenile spring-run are  
anticipated to return to the river as adults in spring 2017. However  
dry year conditions will likely impact the number of returning fish,”  
Gidding noted.

The USFWS and Reclamation are prepared to trap and transport the  
returning adults up river, if conditions are such that they cannot  
make it on their own, according to Gidding.

The returning adults will then be monitored to determine what parts of  
the river they use, their survival over the summer, and where they  
spawn in the fall of 2017. This information will help further inform  
future spring-run reintroduction efforts.

“This is an important study effort for the Restoration Program that  
does not impact water supply,” said David Murillo, Director of  
Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region. “We are hopeful that in three years,  
some of these juveniles return to the San Joaquin River as adults so  
that we learn more toward the long-term reintroduction of this species.”

The released spring-run are considered an “experimental population”  
under the Endangered Species Act and are exempted from the take  
prohibitions by the Central Valley Project and the State Water  
Project, consistent with the Endangered Species Act rule package  
issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service on December 31, 2013.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) concurred with  
the federal regulations under special provisions of the California  
Endangered Species Act that apply to the San Joaquin River Restoration  
Program on March 17, 2014. The release will not impact water supply  
for any water user nor will any additional water releases be made for  
the benefit of these fish, said Gidding.

“Today’s salmon release is a monumental step forward for California’s  
fishing economy and the health of the state’s second largest river,  
particularly as we face a historic drought,” said Monty Schmitt,  
Senior Scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Even in  
the driest years, it is essential for the livelihood of communities in  
the Central Valley to protect the health of our rivers and fisheries  
while supporting the region’s agricultural economy.”

The restoration plan has resulted in a change on the river in fishing  
regulations from a resident rainbow trout to an anadromous fishery.

“Starting January 1 of this year, we will be no longer planting  
rainbow trout in the river below the dam,” said Greg Pape, manager of  
the San Joaquin River Fish Hatchery. “However, there are still a lot  
of wild trout that I expect to reproduce naturally. Also, there are  
populations of crappie, black bass and channel catfish in the river.”

For many years, the CDFW planted around 18,000 pounds of catchable  
rainbows in the San Joaquin throughout the year. Now the hatchery will  
be shifting these fish to other fisheries, including the Sycamore  
Island Pond located off the San Joaquin below Highway 41. The hatchery  
will be planting around 7,000 pounds of rainbows there annually from  
November through early April when the water is still cool enough to  
plant trout.

Pape added that the ponds in the recreation area also feature warm  
water species including black bass, crappie and channel catfish to  

Sycamore Island, located along the north side of the San Joaquin River  
just two miles west of Highway 41 north of Fresno, is operated by the  
San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust. It is open to the  
public for fishing and recreation on Fridays, weekends, and state  
holidays from February through mid-November.

The regulations on the river from Friant Dam downstream to the Highway  
140 Bridge were changed in 2013 from five trout per day to 2 hatchery  
trout or hatchery steelhead per day and 4 hatchery trout or hatchery  
steelhead in possession. Since the river is no longer planted with  
catchable rainbows, the river has transitioned from a put and take  
trout fishery to a catch and release wild trout fishery.

The restoration program was made possible by a settlement reached in  
2006 in the 18-year-old lawsuit filed in 1988 by over a dozen fishing  
groups, including the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and  
United Anglers of California, and environmental groups. The settlement  
guaranteed an increasing amount of "restoration flows" to allow salmon  
and steelhead to successfully spawn and rear in the San Joaquin.

The Bureau of Reclamation, the operator of Friant Dam, began releasing  
those restoration flows in 2009. However, restoration flows over the  
past several years were reduced, due to seepage problems on landowners  
land. There are no restoration flows this year because of the drought.

For more information, go to: http://www.restoresjr.net/
§San Joaquin River below Friant Dam
by Dan Bacher Monday May 26th, 2014 9:11 AM

original image ( 5184x3456)

Spring run chinook have not spawned in the San Joaquin River for over  
60 years since Friant Dam was built. Photo by Dan Bacher.
§San Joaquin River at Lost Lake
by Dan Bacher Monday May 26th, 2014 9:11 AM

original image ( 5184x3456)

The river at Lost Lake Park is a popular area for families to picnic,  
relax, fish and play sports. Photo by Dan Bacher. Photo by Dan Bacher.
§Rainbow trout from the river
by Dan Bacher Monday May 26th, 2014 9:11 AM

original image ( 3456x5184)

The Department of Fish and Wildlife no longer plants rainbow trout  
like this one in the San Joaquin below Friant Dam as the spring  
Chinook salmon restoration plan moves forward. Photo by Dan Bacher.

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