Quite a sight: 1M chinook salmon released into Sacramento River

Vicki Gonzalez, KCRA

Updated 8:51 am, Friday, May 4, 2018
One million fall-run chinook salmon were released into the Sacramento River Wednesday.
The smolts were bred at Feather River Hatchery in Oroville through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The smolts will now head to the ocean and face trying odds. A resilient fraction will return a few years later as adults.
“On this particular release, the success: We may get 1,000 to 10,000 fish back out of the million,” said Harry Morse with the CDFW.
The numbers can be greater, cautioned Morse, adding it’s difficult to forecast years in advance.
CDFW releases more than 20 million fish each year. However, the Sacramento River release is a relocation. The salmon would normally be released along the Feather River. The location was moved about 35 miles downstream to the Sacramento River
The Oroville Dam controls Feather River conditions downstream. The Department of Water Resources is currently refraining from water releases, which means the river is low and conditions are dangerous.
One of the biggest threats to the smolts are striped bass. With little turbidity in the river to provide camouflage for the young salmon, their survival is significantly at risk in the Feather River.
“We would lose a high percentage of the fish. We are trying to pick the best location possible under the conditions that we have,” Morse said. “The best conditions are what we call high turbidity — silt in the water, where the fish go down and they can’t be seen very well.”
The angling community is critical of DWR’s decision to not release water in support of the hatchery release.
Both the Nor-Cal Guides Sportsman Association (NCGASA) and Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) were at the release, arguing they asked DWR to release a small amount of water in the Feather River to help with turbidity.
“DWR wouldn’t cooperate with us on that,” said Ron Kelly with NCGASA. “The bad part is it hurts the economy in Yuba City and Marysville because by releasing them down here, we have to fight the stray rates too — the fish not finding their way back because they are not released in their home water.”
GGSA argues that the state is prioritizing water delivering over the fishing economy, which particularly was hurt along the Feather River due to the Oroville Dam spillway failure compromising the habitat.
“Lake Oroville has plenty of water in it now, and it wouldn’t take much water to safely deliver these fish,” said John McManus with GGSA.
DWR spokesperson Erin Mellon released the following statement:

“DWR attempts to synchronize flow increases for project purposes with hatchery releases, but this is not always possible. Although a pulse for a hatchery release in early March was a success, it was not possible this week because Lake Oroville is currently being operated to conserve water in light of the low snowpack with low water content. As a result, CDFW decided the best adaptive approach for this week would be to move the release downstream. DWR paid for the production and tagging of these fish, which are additional to normal production levels. CDFW believes they are being released in a spot that should have good recruitment to the ocean fisheries.”