Record low returns of Yuba River salmon are causing biologists and fly fishermen to agree that extreme steps, including a ban on fishing and restoration of the Sacramento Delta, are needed to protect the last remaining wild run in the Central Valley.
Throughout the Central Valley, fall run Chinook made dismal returns to their spawning grounds last year. Although a formal count by the state Fish and Game Department has not yet been released, preliminary data from the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the South Yuba River Citizens League show a collapse of the fishery.
On the Yuba River, a record low of 2,600 fall run Chinook salmon returned to spawn, according to fish carcasses collected by SYRCL. In 2006, 8,000 fish returned, and in 2005, 18,000 salmon returned to spawn, said Gary Reedy, river science director for SYRCL.
“We have very dire predictions of salmon. In the face of that situation, there’s no biological rational to support any harvest of wild salmon at all,” said Gary Reedy, a biologist for the South Yuba River Citizens League.
In January, the Pacific Fishery Management Council sounded an alarm when it found that Sacramento River fall Chinook did not make adult spawning escapement goals. The group also found 2,000 “jacks,” or 2-year-old males used to forecast future returns, were down from a long-term average of 40,000 and a previous record low of 10,000.
“We can expect next year to be a record low again,” Reedy said.
Scientists’ opinions are mixed on what has caused the salmon’s decline. The entire north coast, including Oregon, the Columbia River and British Columbia, saw low returns that appear to stem from the ocean, according to PFMC.
Problems in the Delta, including an increase in diversions, the introduction of exotic species that compete for salmons’ native food sources and an imbalance of fresh and salt water, have led to the Chinooks’ decline, Reedy said. Juvenile salmon put on growth in the Delta before returning to the ocean.
“Things are way out of whack in the Delta. It’s time for people to get angry about the situation,” Reedy said.
Once they have returned to sea, smaller salmon have a higher chance of mortality when they meet up with predators and a large number of fishing boats, Reedy said.
Next month, SYRCL will join the California Environmental Water Caucus at the state capital to request better water resource management by the governor.
There are no hatcheries on the Yuba River, which represents the largest run of wild salmon in the Central Valley. State fishing licenses allow for the take of two salmon per angler during the height of the season.
Posting a zero take on wild salmon while the fishery recovers is a good idea, said Tony Dumont, owner of Nevada City Anglers.
By the time the Chinook reach the Yuba after traveling up the Delta, Sacramento River and Feather River, the fish are black and past their prime – hardly worth eating, said Dumont.
“I think we need to do anything we can to protect them. If you need a salmon that bad, go to Albertson’s,” Dumont said.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4231.
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