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Chinook salmon release totals 550,000 in San Pablo Bay

June 5, 2009 | 12:53 pm

Department of Fish and Game fisheries employees deposit six-inch salmon smolts into net pens, where they were acclimated before being released into San Pablo Bay.

The Department of Fish and Game on Thursday released 550,000 young Chinook salmon into San Pablo Bay, in an ongoing attempt to boost a beleaguered Central Valley fall-run fishery whose near-collapse has caused an estimated $279-million loss to the economy and led to the elimination of 2,690 jobs.

The release marked the end of an ambitious spring trucking-and-acclimation project that has stocked nearly 13 million salmon. The project entailed direct delivery to the Northern California bay via trucks and hours-long acclimation periods in Fishery Foundation  of California net pens. The pens were then towed across the bay and the six-inch fish were slowly released beneath the surface to guard against bird predation.

This method, versus in-river releases, more than doubles the survival rate and increases the return of hatchery-reared salmon, as adults, three years after their release, according to a DFG spokesman.

The Central Valley River system's fall run of Chinook, or king salmon, has suffered because of diversions, dams, pumps, seal and sea lion predation, and other factors. Last year only 66,000 adults returned. It was the lowest return recorded and prompted closure of sport and commercial fisheries.

The bright news is that this fall 122,000 adult salmon are expected to return, but that probably won't be enough to reopen the fishery. It is hoped the fishery will reopen in 2010.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Department of Fish and Game fisheries employees deposit six-inch salmon smolts into net pens, where they were acclimated before being released into San Pablo Bay. Credit: Harry Morse

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