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J.D. Richey: No salmon this year, but there’s hope for the future

Outdoors
By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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At the stroke of midnight on July 3, the paperwork finally became official and the Central Valley rivers closed to salmon fishing for the first time in history (aside from annual seasonal spawning closures in some areas). While this is going to be a huge blow to everybody involved in salmon fishing for at least a year or two, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps the biggest and best news is that the Department of Fish & Game seriously stepped to the plate this spring and raised and released a record 20.2 million king salmon smolts back into the system. The mind-blowing number of fish is cause for excitement, as is the way the Department released the fish. This year, all 20 plus million juvenile Chinook were placed in floating pens, where they were able to safely acclimate to their surroundings at the release sites. Then, they were towed out into the bay and turned loose. In years past, the majority of hatchery reared salmon in the Valley were simply trucked to spots in the river and bay... dumped... and that was that. The problem with that program was predators — most notably striped bass — keyed in on the release spots and feasted. Mortality was extremely high and hundreds of thousands of baby salmon were eaten before they even swam two tail kicks away from the hatchery truck. In addition to the added security that the net pens afford the small kings, they also get a chance to better acclimate to their new digs. That should help bolster survival rates while also reducing the amount of straying that often occurs when hatchery salmon return as adults. It was a huge effort to get all those fish hatched, reared and released and the DFG is to be commended for its hard work. Another promising thing to consider is that ocean conditions — thought to be another big factor in the salmon decline — seem to be improving slightly. My commercial fisherman buddies say they are seeing more krill, sardines and anchovies out at sea this season than they did over the past few years. So, it sounds like all those little salmon may encounter more hospitable conditions when they reach the salt. The salmon runs in the Valley should be down for the next two years. The first wave of fish from this year’s plant will return home in three seasons, so we will just have to wait until then to see what happens, but it definitely seems like there’s some hope! Now, what we need is a few good winters in a row to restore the water levels in the reservoirs that feed our salmon streams. If all these fish come back to low, hot water all the effort from the DFG will largely be moot. This fall, things are looking bleak from a water standpoint, so keep your fingers crossed and do a rain dance this winter! Now, if we could just keep the Governor from exporting record amounts of water to the south... J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate, and his outdoors pieces have been published nationally. He can be found on the Web at www.fishwithjd.com.