Below is the statement from the Yurok Tribe discussing action that they have taken to protect spring-run Chinook salmon on the Klamath River:
Spring Fish Stocks Suffer as a Consequence of Habitat Loss, Excessive Water Diversions
“The current quantity of adult spring Chinook in the Klamath River is a small fraction of historic abundance. For example, over 11,000 adults were estimated to be holding in the South Fork Trinity River during 1964, yet abundance has hovered around 20 fish during recent years. The Tribal Council continues to be concerned about the status of this important species, which is expected to be one of the primary runs of fish that will re-populate the Upper Klamath Basin post-dam removal. Therefore, conservation regulations have been implemented by the Yurok Tribe to mitigate further population declines.
Spring-run Chinook salmon return to the Klamath River early in the year during the snow melt off, but do not spawn until the fall. Historically, the River was swollen with cold water and ample productive habitat existed throughout the basin, which sustained spring-run fish. Today, habitat loss, dams and unbalanced diversions have driven the decline of the spring salmon as well as other salmon stocks on the Klamath.
As shown in the graph below (see pictures), two of the most important wild spring-run Chinook populations in the Klamath River Basin (Salmon River and South Fork Trinity River) have been in steady decline in recent years. Except for these two streams, and the population below Lewiston Dam, which is comprised partially of Trinity River Hatchery spring Chinook strays, wild spring-run Chinook have nearly disappeared from the basin.
Yurok Tribe conservation regulations to protect 2021 spring-run Klamath River fish species include:
• Limiting the open days of the gill net fishery to only 3-days weekly (9:00 a.m. on Friday to 9:00 a.m. on Monday), with a 4-day closure. These limited fishing hours will minimize harvest impacts while allowing some level of subsistence and ceremonial harvest. Such restrictions were advocated by Tribal members during the public outreach meeting that we held.
• Restricting throw/drift net gear, which have been shown to be highly effective at harvesting spring-run fish, to only 1-day per week in the chute where the Klamath River enters the ocean. Set gill nets are not allowed in the chute at any time to further protect stocks.
• Enforcement of a no-fishing conservation zone within 1,300 feet of Coon Creek Falls. This zone is known to hold many adult sturgeon. Sturgeon are especially vulnerable to over-harvest due to late-age sexual maturity (15-20 years of age) and not being successive year spawners (spawn every 2-11 years).
• Tribal fishers will be issued only one sturgeon tag for 2021, which must be attached to a harvested sturgeon of legal length (less than 6 feet). The reduced bag limit will allow more sturgeon to complete their return migration and spawn.
• Strict enforcement by Yurok Tribe Public Safety and penalties listed in the regulations as a deterrent to violation of the conservation regulations.
The planned removal of the Klamath River dams provides an opportunity to restore spring-run Chinook to historical habitat that is unprecedented in scale. Tribal and non-Tribal conservation efforts must be diligent in protecting as many spring-run fish as able. Once lost, the wild spring-run genotype cannot be artificially recreated or restored, therefore conservation for future generations of Yurok People is essential.
The Yurok Tribe has done a tremendous amount of habitat restoration work for spring salmon and all other native fish species on the Klamath. Every year, the Tribe and its partners implement multiple large-scale projects to repair the aquatic environment within Klamath River tributaries, including the main-stem Trinity River and the South Fork of the Trinity. Much of the restoration work has focused on building rearing habitat for salmon at all life stages. In 2018, for spring salmon specifically, the Tribe and a Chinook helicopter team reintroduced more than 300 large wood features on the South Fork Trinity. The strategically placed structures create excellent habitat for juvenile and adult salmon. The Tribe designed and constructed the approximately $1 million project. This restoration of the Klamath Basin is ongoing and much more needs to be done. However, the significant progress that has been made on this front will pay dividends when the dams are removed and salmon numbers begin to rebound. The Tribe is repairing the river today to sustain the recovered runs of tomorrow.”