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Wildlife officials truck Chinook salmon to cooler waters in emergency move to help them spawn

Christian Martinez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

In a stopgap measure to help struggling spring- and winter-run Chinook salmon spawn in the face of rising water temperatures and lower water levels due to climate change, state and federal wildlife officials in Northern California have begun trucking adult fish to cooler waters.

The spring- and winter-run salmon are genetically different, with the seasonal labels marking when adult fish travel from the Pacific Ocean back to the Sacramento River to spawn.

The spring-run Chinook, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, are being moved from traps at the base of Keswick Dam to Clear Creek in the Sacramento River.

About 300 specimens of the winter-run salmon, listed as endangered since 1994, are being moved from a government-run hatchery to waters above the Eagle Canyon Dam on the North Fork of Battle Creek, east of Redding. The relocation, which began with a single fish, marks the first time in more than 110 years that the winter-run salmon have occupied those waters.

"It's just beautiful, cool, shady habitat for them," said Peter Tira, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "While they can't physically access it because of the barriers, their offspring will be able to just kind of ride the waterfalls down and will be able to make their migration to the ocean."

The efforts, which began last month, are short-term, emergency measures, especially for the winter-run salmon, Tira said.

 

"This is the third year of drought, and these fish have a three-year life cycle, basically," he said. "And we've had two years of poor production, so we can't afford to have another year of poor production."

Since 1997, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has operated the Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery to produce winter-run Chinook, and production is expected to be expanded in another attempt to bolster the population.

The efforts are temporary until a permanent solution for the fish to reach areas above Shasta Lake can be found. One proposal would see fish trucked directly to the McCloud River, above the Shasta Dam, to spawn. Their offspring would then be trapped and trucked down to the Sacramento River to begin their journey to the Pacific.

The building of dams such as Eagle Canyon and nearby Shasta, as well as Pacific Gas & Electric facilities, have blocked the salmon from reaching their natural spawning habitats fed by colder waters.

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