Meandering Angler: Finding water for salmon

California is in its third straight year of drought, which means that all creatures, human and otherwise, are in for more hot, dry and possibly dangerous months. It’s especially bad for fish. Lack of water is only half the problem. The other is water temperature.

California’s native fish like trout and salmon are not the tropical variety. They die when the water gets too warm. That’s why those in the business of preserving and protecting California fisheries are promoting the idea of actually moving fish to cooler waters in our state.

This was the subject of a recent article by John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association. The GSSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values. Here are excerpts from his article:

”Last summer and fall the vast majority of juvenile endangered Sacramento River winter run Chinook salmon were killed by lethally hot river temperatures while a handful of agriculture operators got the lion’s share of available water.

“This was made possible by water rules established in the 19th century before salmon regularly faced threats from drought and overheated rivers. Many Sacramento River fall run salmon – the backbone of California’s billion-dollar salmon fishing industry – were also lost to hot water. So too were a significant number of threatened spring run salmon… A repeat of the fish kills is likely again this year unless we do something different. One immediate action is to move the salmon to colder water.

“Central Valley salmon are currently limited to the 10% of their historic habitat remaining below dams down on the Valley floor. But this is where the water is heating up. To deal with climate change, regulatory agencies must do everything they can to make the rivers downstream from the dams cold enough for salmon to survive. They also need to give all four Central Valley salmon runs access to higher elevation habitat, above the dams in reliable cold-water reaches of river. That should start with returning winter run salmon to their native McCloud River and to the Winnemem Wintu tribe. This reintroduction has been stalled for years.”

McManus’ article sites other rivers where dams built in the 20th Century block the migration of salmon to their traditionally colder upstream waters. He suggests that the National Marine Fisheries Service should use its authority to move adult salmon above all of those dams, and then trap their offspring and bring them back downstream later, when the waters are cooler.

“These effective ideas to expand salmon habitat are not new, but they’ve been stalled or have been overlooked for years. The health of our salmon runs, our rivers and California’s salmon fishing industry requires us to get these gridlocked opportunities moving to improve salmon climate resilience,” McManus concluded.

In spite of his dire forecast for the future, forecasts for this year’s salmon fishing off the Sonoma Coast are fairly optimistic. The 2022 ocean salmon recreational fishing season for our area is predicted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to open on April 2 and the commercial season will open May 1.

Local anglers who want to fish for salmon in April should call Capt. Rick Powers of Bodega Bay Sportsfishing, 875-3344, to reserve a spot on his salmon party boat.

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