By Michael Raffety
The Nimbus Hatchery celebrated the return of salmon that ad been released from the hatchery during the drought. The celebratory event was sponsored Nov. 16 by the Regional Water Authority and the Water Forum.
How many salmon retuned to the hatchery is not fully counted yet, but as of Dec. 8 the expected total return would be “close to” 10,000, according to Laura Drath of the State Department of Fish and Wildlife. This is a reduced return due to the drought.
Long after the hatchery count is finished the non-hatchery count begins by kayak, canoe and assorted small boats. Actually the salmon counted have completed their life cycle and have died. To avoid double counting the carcasses the crews cut of their heads.
On average 50,000 salmon return to the hatchery and 20,000 salmon lay eggs on the American River west of the hatchery, primarily the lower American River, according to Drath.
That’s after releasing 4 million salmon smolts. That’s a 1.25 percent survival. The drought return of 10,000 this year amounts to 0.25 percent
One of the things the Water Forum has done is used 300 tons of gravel to create 30 acres of salmon egg laying environment.. The Forum has also worked with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to improve the cold water gates at Folsom Dam. Releasing cold water in the fall entices the Chinook salmon to move upstream.
The American River is a major water supply for 2 million people, said John Woodling, executive director of the Regional Water Authority. The RWA represents 25 water agencies from five counties This area has added 400,000 people and uses the same amount of water it did in 2001, Woodling said
The Lower American River attracts 5 million visitors annually.
Because the Coleman hatchery on Battle Creek trucked its smolts to release in Rio Vista, a lot of them didn’t have a sense of direction and wound up at Nimbus. Nimbus identifies the Battle Creek salmon by reading a wire in their heads, so their eggs can be sent off to the Coleman Hatchery.
Processing for eggs and reading their point of origin results in a lot of killed salmon, which are sent to a food processor, who then turns them over the Sacramento Food Bank.
It’s a virtuous cycle for a fish that takes two to five years to return to the hatchery.