Clements — A possible record run of fall-run Chinook salmon is now returning to the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery. In contrast, the Coleman National Fish Hatchery on Battle Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento, is reporting the second lowest return of fall-run Chinooks in many years.
The fish are now returning from the ocean in a year where all salmon fishing was closed in California’s rivers and ocean waters, due to the projected low abundance of Sacramento and Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon, so fishery managers and salmon advocates are keeping a close eye on this fall’s spawning escapement.
The total numbers of hatchery and naturally spawned fish returning to the Mokelumne, American, Feather and Sacramento River and their tributaries won’’t be known until the numbers of fish returning to the hatcheries and carcass counts on the rivers are compiled by the CDFW and NOAA Fisheries in February 2024 in preparation for the Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings that craft the fishing seasons and restrictions.
Over 17,000 Fall-run Chinook have been counted at the Mokelumne facility as of October 31, more than the total number of fish that returned last year, reported Cat Kaiser, operations and events director for the Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA).
“According to projections by hatchery staff based on the number of returns at this time, this year may be the largest run since the hatchery was built in 1963,” said Kaiser. “The peak of the run is typically during the first week of November.”
Kaiser said the hatchery is working towards its 10 million egg-take goal with an expected 9 million smolts, including the required 2 million mitigation fish to be released at Sherman Island.
“This year, an extra 2.6 million drought enhancement fish will also be produced,” she noted. ““The majority of smolts will be trucked to release sites spanning Fort Baker, Richmond, Marin Rod & Gun Club, Tiberon, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, and Monterey in 2024. “
Last year a total of 6.4 million salmon smolts were produced at the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery.
Salmon are also returning now to the American River’s Nimbus Fish Hatchery. The fish ladder at the hatchery opened on Friday, November 3.
“Staff began letting 200-300 fish enter. Egg-taking is scheduled to begin Monday morning,” Kaiser said.
The hatchery will be taking eggs to reach a production goal of 4.5 million smolts and an additional 2 million fry, which will have parent-based tagging.
The Feather River Hatchery in Oroville is close to meeting its egg-take goal of 11 million with a 9.5 million smolt goal, Kaiser reported. Of those, 6 million are mitigation and 3.5 million are drought enhancement fish. Of that 3.5 million, 1.5 million fall run Chinook will be released as fingerlings.
“There are still a lot of fish in the Feather River (a little more than this time last year) and they will continue to spawn until the house is full and maximum capacity is reached. They have space for about 14-15 million eggs. One million of the fish will most likely be released into the river, depending on water conditions, with hopes of the rest being trucked,” Kaiser concluded.
On Battle Creek, the Coleman National Fish Hatchery is approaching three weeks into spawning and they have handled, as of last week, about 4,000 fish with a preliminary count downstream in Battle Creek at 5,000,
“This appears to be the 2nd lowest return in many years and hatchery staff are reporting a paltry 200 fish in holding,” reported Scott Artis, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GSSA).
“They expect a little under 9 million eggs, translating into about 8 to 8.3 million smolts out of a goal of 12 million – falling well below targets,” noted Artis. “And to make things worse, 2024 will still represent returns from a drought year class. Thus, returns are expected to continue to be depressed until October 2025 when some better numbers are anticipated.”