Tuesday , May 28 2024

Chinook Salmon Released Into San Joaquin River

Spring-run Chinook salmon have been extinct from the San Joaquin River since the Friant Dam was built in the 1940s, but for years, biologists have been trying to bring them back. Now they’re closer than ever.

54,000 tiny Chinook salmon now jumping for joy, and scientists hope these tiny fish will have a ripple effect that could transform valley rivers for generations to come.

"It used to be tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of fish that would come back every year," Senior Scientist Monty Schmitt with the Natural Resources Defense Council said.

The salmon ending a nearly 250 mile journey to a waterway what was once a part of their yearly spawning ritual, the San Joaquin River.

"When Friant Dam was constructed in the 1940’s, the river was dried up and the salmon runs were wiped out," Schmitt said.

Schmitt is with the group who began the initial lawsuit against the federal government that was the catalyst for the San Joaquin River Restoration project. It’s goal: restoring the river’s once thriving salmon population.

"It’s in the public’s benefit that we have rivers that at least maintain and support fish," Schmitt said.

The salmon were brought to the river bucket by bucket from a hatchery in Oroville to spend the next few days acclimating to their new surroundings.

"The fish will stay in the ocean for 2 to 3 years, and they’ll grow to a large size. Then when they’re adults, and they come back to reproduce, having imprinted on the water here will help them find their way back to the San Joaquin River," San Joaquin River Restoration Program Fisheries Coordinator John Netto said.

Tuesday’s project is not taking any additional water from the basin.

Another planned phase of the project is building a salmon hatchery next to the river. The goal is to eventually bring even more salmon into the valley’s river infrastructure.

"We’re hoping that at some point, we’ll be able to release approximately a million fish per year," Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Program Manager Gerald Hatler said. 

Growing up to three feet in size, they’ll have to survive years at sea before returning home to the valley to bring new  life to a once dead river.

The salmon will be moved on Monday. They will be taken to the confluence with Merced river. There, they will stay for three days. Then they will be released into the river, eventually making their way to the ocean.

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