GGSA December News and Updates

The Mokelumne hatchery was one that saw good returns in 2017.

by GGSA Staff

Hatchery returns, good and bad
Most California salmon hatcheries are getting the returns they need to hit their production targets for baby salmon that will be released in 2018. The exception is the Coleman Hatchery near Redding. The Mokelumne hatchery is on track to match or break a record set in 2011 for adult returning salmon. Coleman hatchery in the far northern Sacramento Valley has not gotten the returning adults it hoped for and has supplemented its broodstock with fish taken early from the Nimbus hatchery on the American River. 

At last report, the Feather River and Nimbus hatcheries appeared to have adequate returning adult salmon to get the broodstock needed. Mokelumne hatchery returns were stronger as a result of improved hatchery management and release practices that increased survival of the baby salmon. On the other hand, the Coleman hatchery struggled with many of their fish returning to rivers in the lower Sacramento Valley, an effect of trucking the fish to release sites in the Bay and Delta two years ago to survive the drought. This was done to save the fish from certain death in the drought-plagued Central Valley rivers at the time.

After GGSA prod, CDFW says no to illegal Delta water diversion
The current White House and its San Joaquin Valley Congressional allies moved in October to violate federal water rules set in 2008 that require extra water releases to the Delta in October following a wet winter. The purpose is to aid in the production of fresh/brackish water plankton, which is good food for native fish, west to about Suisun Bay. 

Instead the federal pumps were cranked up to divert the Delta flows. But the CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) consent was needed to fully carry out the illegal act and fortunately CDFW refused to sign off on it after GGSA and others pressed them to instead stand up for a healthy Bay and Delta environment. 

GGSA standing against more Delta pumping, practice harmful to salmon
Federal water officials are conspiring to divert peak storm water runoff flows needed by salmon from the Bay Delta in violation of federal protections in place since 2009. A new law passed in late 2016 provides cover for such diversions but only if a handful of fish and wildlife agencies all agree that doing so won’t harm species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. The species include steelhead, winter and spring run salmon, sturgeon and Delta smelt. 

With near record low numbers of winter run salmon and smelt, it’s hard to imagine any responsible wildlife official signing off on such an action, especially this year, as populations struggle to rebound. GGSA is directly engaged with the National Marine Fisheries Service and others to head off any potential approval of extra water diversions.

GGSA Acts to Save Federal Salmon Restoration Fund
A major source of federal money to restore salmon habitat in the Central Valley is under threat of being lost. The money comes from the big agricultural interests who benefit from the water delivered and the electric utilities who get cheap power from hydropower turbines in federal dams. About $25 million is collected and spent annually to offset the damage massive federal water project dams, pipes, canals and the like do to salmon and other fish. 

In recent years part of this money has been spent restoring spawning gravel and rearing channels in the upper Sacramento River, among other things. Now the electric utilities are saying they want out of the deal. With solar panels on many rooftops and other sustainable electric options, they don’t want to be locked into contracts to buy hydropower from the federal dams. In the meantime, GGSA has added its voice to a request to the feds to hold the power and water users to the terms and conditions they agreed to.

GGSA Joins New Central Valley Habitat Restoration Effort
A new coalition of environmentalists, agricultural water users and salmon fishermen have assigned themselves the task of working together to restore salmon habitat in the Central Valley. The effort is based on the successful Central Valley Joint Venture which brought diverse partners together to restore vast acreage of waterfowl habitat in the Central Valley. 

The salmon habitat parties know they’ll never agree on the issue of water diversions from the salmon rivers but they expect to find agreement on the need to restore other parts of salmon habitat. The salmon advocates know the farm groups control much of the land and equipment needed to undo the decades of river and wetland modification in the Central Valley that occurred in the days when landscape-wide changes happened almost overnight with virtually no regulation. Only time will tell if this effort will accelerate the habitat restoration that is needed.

GSA Sonoma Fundraising Dinner a Success, Volunteer Chefs Rock
After surviving the great fire of 2017, Sonoma was ready to convene around a fine meal and a good glass of wine to visit, share stories, and chip in for a couple of good causes; fire relief and salmon. So were four of the Valley of the Moon’s best chefs who donated their time to cook wild caught salmon, the likes of which we’re not likely to see again for many moons. They came together at the annual GGSA Sonoma fundraising dinner in November.

The donated salmon was a highlight of the evening and the four chefs all did a great job uniquely preparing it. The dinner honored the local dairy and wine growing Mulas family for their forward thinking use of recycled water on their fields and vines, producing some of the best anywhere. Money raised by the event was split between fire relief efforts and support for GGSA’s salmon efforts.
Link to a Sonoma Index-Tribune column about the event

Twin Tunnels Project Uncertain Future
Many of the water user groups that take water from the Delta have rejected buying into the state’s proposal to build two huge twin tunnels to divert Delta water. In spite of this, the governor still seems to be clinging to hope it might still be built. Some now think that is unlikely unless the federal government decides to underwrite a significant part of the project and bring the costs down for the water users who had been expected to pay for it. If built, the tunnels would divert massive volumes of water from the far north Delta, leaving little for fish, wildlife and the Bay and Delta. Federal fish and wildlife agencies have stated that the project will harm salmon. GGSA was among the first groups to bring a legal challenge to the tunnels. That court case is proceeding for the time being because the state hasn’t yet withdrawn project applications, even though many of those supposed to receive the water have now said they don’t want to pay for it. Link to Sacramento Bee article about downsizing to one Delta tunnel

Salmon Eggs Again Being Lost
In November GGSA warned water officials about the likely loss of fall run spawn in the upper Sacramento River due to sudden drastic cutoff of releases from Lake Shasta. Releases fell from about 7800 cubic feet per second of water onNovember 1 to about 5,000 cubic feet per second by the end of November. There are no estimates yet of how many hundreds of thousands or even millions of salmon eggs were already deposited in the river bottom gravels when the flows were cut. The eggs stay in the gravel from 60 to 90 days before hatching. Big reductions of reservoir releases shrink the river leaving the former shallow edges of the river, where salmon tend to lay their eggs, high and dry. 

Early reports indicate that few salmon nests, or redds, were dewatered because so few adult salmon have returned to the upper Sacramento this year. That’s due to the drought that overheated the river during spawning and destroyed the migratory route to the sea for survivors two years ago, killing most of them when they were babies. GGSA lodged a protest with the operators of the Shasta Dam in November when the issue was first brought to our attention.

GSA meets with state and federal fishery officials to hash out salmon-saving steps
Members of GGSA board of directors joined GGSA executive director John McManus in a recent meeting with top state and federal fishery officials. Among the topics, how the government officials will respond to new demands by San Joaquin Valley agricultural interests to pump more Delta water during baby salmon migration period. At the meeting, GGSA asked for fishery officials to take a strong stand against additional pumping since it will kill more baby salmon.

GGSA also asked for:

  • Help to get the California Dept. of Water Resources to pay their fair share for coded wire tags. These are small bits of wire inserted in hatchery fish to determine survival, migration patterns and other needed information.
  • Restoration actions on the Feather River, where the Oroville Dam Spillway failed in 2016. 
  • Release of reservoir water in the spring, especially in low water years, needed to flush baby salmon out of the Central Valley and to the Delta and bay. 
  • Review of various other proposals to increase Central Valley salmon runs.

The Golden Gate Salmon Association is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. 

GGSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values.

Currently, California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity annually in a regular season and about half that much in economic activity and jobs again in Oregon. The industry employs tens of thousands of people from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This is a huge economic bloc made up of commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and the salmon fishing industry at large.

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