NEWS WORTH NOTING: Resource agencies re-introduce Sacramento River winter-run chinook salmon into Battle Creek to expand range of endangered species; State Water Contractors teaming up to advance scientific research on longfin smelt

Resource Agencies Re-Introduce Sacramento River Winter-Run Chinook Salmon into Battle Creek to Expand Range of Endangered Species

From the US Fish & Wildlife Service:

To jump start the effort to establish additional populations of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, approximately 200,000 hatchery-reared winter-run Chinook salmon are being released over the next two months into newly restored habitat in the North Fork of Battle Creek.

The successful release of these fish is the culmination of many years of planning and cooperation in rearing the fish and in restoring their habitat.  This is a significant milestone toward the recovery of endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon.

The reestablishment of fish in this waterway is occurring sooner than expected due the availability of fish from the Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery winter-run captive broodstock program. The captive broodstock program began in 1992 as an emergency measure to address the sudden and rapid collapse of winter-run Chinook salmon abundance in the Sacramento River in the 1980's and early 1990's. Because the winter-run Chinook salmon population rebounded in the early 2000's, the captive broodstock program was suspended.  However, with the loss of nearly the entire in-river juvenile population in 2014 and 2015 due to the extreme drought, the captive program at the hatchery was reinstituted.  Each year approximately 1,000 fish are retained in the hatchery and raised to adults for breeding. Fortunately, in 2017 there were enough spawning adults in the river so the captive broodstock at the hatchery was not required to sustain the population.

Resource managers from the Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Program, composed of the California Department Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, NOAA Fisheries, and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company saw the extra broodstock as an exceptional opportunity to expand the current range of the fish and help in its recovery.

“We're calling this project the ‘Battle Creek winter-run jump start,'” said Jim Smith project leader for the Red Bluff California Fish and Wildlife Office.  “We felt these additional fish could help bolster the winter-run population and be a potential catalyst in their recovery.”

North Fork of Battle Creek is historic habitat for winter-run Chinook salmon that has received significant improvement as part of a long-term restoration project.  Since 1999, the Battle Creek Restoration Program has spent over $100 million in an effort to restore approximately 48 miles of prime salmon and steelhead habitat.

“Maintaining these critically endangered fish in the mainstem Sacramento River below Shasta dam through cold water releases is not a sustainable strategy, especially considering the likelihood of more drought years,” said Maria Rea, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries' Central Valley Office. “We must work together to reintroduce these salmon into their historic habitat in Battle Creek and the McCloud River, if we are to recover them for future generations.”

Approximately 200,000 juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon from the adults spawned last summer will be released throughout March and April this year.  They were hatched last August at the Livingston Stone Hatchery and immediately trucked to the Coleman National Fish Hatchery on Battle Creek.  It was important to transfer the fish immediately to Coleman Fish Hatchery so the juveniles could imprint on the smell of the waterway to guide their return migration in 2020.  All of the juvenile salmon will be tagged and fin clipped prior to release, allowing resource managers to track their survival, growth and ocean distribution, as well as to detect them when they return to Battle Creek.

“Each step we take to re-establish these endangered winter run Chinook salmon is vital and helps us remember that in less than a century a run of salmon nearly a million strong has been reduced to thousands,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Charlton H. Bonham. “Each effort we make takes us a step closer to returning more of these iconic fish to our state.”

While California is home to many native salmon species, winter-run Chinook salmon face unique challenges during their life cycle.  In the past these fish migrated upstream during the winter months and spawned in the cool mountain streams above Shasta Dam.  Today they spawn in locations at much lower and warmer elevations during the summer when air temperatures and water temperatures approach their yearly maximum.

These fish historically spawned in the cold, clear waters of the Little Sacramento, McCloud and Pit Rivers as well as in Battle Creek.  The construction of Shasta and Keswick Dams, combined with an extensive hydroelectric project on Battle Creek, blocked access to their native habitats and forced them to spawn in the unhospitable waters downstream of Keswick Dam.  Over the course of several decades, this reduced the number of winter-run Chinook salmon from four large populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands, to a single, imperiled population that is mostly comprised of hatchery-produced fish.

Today, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon are listed as an endangered species under both federal and state law.  NOAA Fisheries also considers winter-run Chinook salmon among eight marine species most at risk of extinction and part of the “Species in the Spotlight” initiative.

The single remaining population of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon has persisted in large part due to federal and state agency-managed seasonal cold water releases from Shasta Reservoir, to protect sensitive salmon eggs from the summer heat, and through the release of hatchery-produced juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon from a conservation program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery.  However, re-establishing self-sustaining populations in other locales is important for the recovery of these fish.

State Water Contractors Teaming Up to Advance Scientific Research on Longfin Smelt

Discoveries Will Help Shape California’s Future Water Management Practices

From the State Water Contractors:

Public water agencies and researchers within the State Water Contractors (SWC) participated today in a panel discussion sharing preliminary scientific research to better understand threatened longfin smelt and their habitat in the Sacramento Bay Delta.

In a presentation at the 2018 Interagency Ecological Program (IEP) Annual Workshop in Folsom, Calif., scientists from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW), ICF and experts from the University of California, Davis, shared information and preliminary findings on several research efforts underway to explore the factors that may be contributing to declining longfin smelt populations in the Delta.  ICF, a global consulting services company with renowned longfin smelt experts, is under contract with the State Water Contractors and MWD to work on and advance scientific research.

“Our member water agencies are leaders in the water science community, helping to fund and support groundbreaking research that enables us to answer key questions about longfin smelt and their habitat,” said Jennifer Pierre, SWC general manager. “Together with our state, federal and academic partners, we’re piecing together the puzzle on how to best balance the needs of people, farms and the environment for California’s future.”

In addition to bringing fresh, clean water to 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland, the SWC invests over $1 million annually in science and research. For more information, please visit the SWC Science webpage.

The longfin smelt studies underway aim to identify the root causes of a population decline amongst longfin smelt in the Delta by answering key questions such as:

  • Why do longfin smelt numbers fluctuate between wet and dry years?
  • Where are longfin smelt rearing?
  • How are they impacted by water quality, turbidity, salinity and temperature?
  • What is their diet like?

Partners in the California water science community are using various methods for their research, including conducting field work in new geographical areas, developing and analyzing sophisticated computer modeling and leading advanced statistical analyses. Specifically, the research efforts explore various themes such as the impact of Delta outflows on the abundance and distribution of longfin smelt, as well as their dietary patterns, larvae habitat conditions and rearing patterns, and species detection assumptions and practices.

Preliminary findings suggest that the collective research will help to better understand the longfin smelt’s long-term decline. A goal of better science is to provide policy leaders and regulators with better information in making future water management and restoration decisions.

“Through innovations and advancements in science and research, we are understanding more about Longfin and their habitat than we ever have,” Pierre said. “Our shared discoveries have the potential to improve our management of the Delta to better meet the State’s co-equal goals of improved water supply reliability and protecting, enhancing and restoring the Delta ecosystem. We look forward to continuing this important scientific work with our valued partners.”

The State Water Contractors is a statewide, non-profit association of 27 public agencies from Northern, Central and Southern California that purchase water under contract from the California State Water Project. Collectively the State Water Contractors deliver water to more than 25 million residents throughout the state and more than 750,000 acres of agricultural land.


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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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