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Sac River salmon in danger with drought release

Michael Coats, who runs his pubic relations business here in Sonoma, his home town, is an angler himself and also does the PR for the Golden Gate Salmon Association, the nonprofit organization representing those with an interest in preserving and protecting the salmon population of California rivers and coastal waters.

This week, Michael sent me a report which says that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release 73,000 baby salmon from the Coleman national fish hatchery, in spite of the extreme drought and record low water in the Sacramento River. The GGSA warned the agency on Jan. 6, that such a move would likely kill many of the hatchery fish and wild baby salmon trapped in the upper Sacramento River. GGSA asked that the fish be moved to safe waters for release. The request was turned down by the Fish and Wildlife Service even though recent studies show salmon released from Coleman hatchery in similar low water conditions had very low survival.

Loss of this year’s juvenile salmon will be acutely felt in 2016, when any fish that survive this year will come back as adults. The news release also pointed out that studies during the last drought between 2007 and 2009 indicated that up to 50 percent of the fish released at Coleman hatchery were lost in the first 50 miles from the hatchery. The state-run Feather River and Mokelumne hatcheries confronting similar issues, release their fish downstream with greatly improved survival and adult returns. Coleman continues to ignore these accomplishments.

In April, the Coleman hatchery is expected to release 12 million fall-run juvenile salmon. The fall-run provides the vast majority of salmon to sport and commercial fisheries. If drought persists, the fall run will encounter similar hostile upriver conditions. Like now, the USFWS was asked to modify its release. They refused and there was evidence of a slaughter via predation most of the way down the river.

On a more positive front, the Golden Gate Salmon Association’s first-ever Sonoma dinner is on Friday, March 14, at Ramekins. Co-host will be local vintner Sam Sebastiani. The Ramekins venue for GGSA dinner has been donated by Darius and Sarah Anderson, and the salmon preservation fund-raising event features Sam’s wines and fine food. Of course there will be silent and open auctions, and the chance to compare fish stories with all the folks we share the water with and raise funds for GGSA and its salmon restoration projects.

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