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Salmon may use San Joaquin River to spawn and a record number of kings return to the Russian River. It’s a good week for the beleaguered California king salmon …


Salmon may spawn in San Joaquin River

By Alex Breitler/Stockton Record

Salmon may soon spawn in the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam, probably for the first time since the river's flow was diverted to farms in the 1950s.

Most San Joaquin salmon swim upstream past Stockton no farther than the Merced River, above which the San Joaquin dries up. Last week, however, biologists trapped adult salmon near the Merced and trucked them to a stretch of river closer to the dam, near Fresno.

The goal: To see if they'll reproduce that far upstream.

The experiment does not mean officials have met their goal of successfully reintroducing self-sustaining salmon populations, which is the focus of an $892 million river restoration plan that emerged after 18 years of litigation.

Just a few dozen fish are involved this time. And they are fall-run salmon - not the threatened spring-run fish that must eventually be established.

Nevertheless, one environmentalist was awestruck by the sight of large salmon in a river that hasn't seen any for decades, except in the wettest of years.

"These were living, jumping, thriving big fish," said Monty Schmitt, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, whose 1988 lawsuit ultimately led to the river restoration plan.

Schmitt watched last week as biologists carefully dropped the wriggling Chinook into the river.

"I've got to tell you it has been amazing to see. It actually caught me off guard how powerful it was," Schmitt said. "I highly doubt there has been another time since 1950 there have been this many fish (in the San Joaquin), and the potential for them to spawn is better than just good."

Salmon were spotted upstream of the Merced during the floods of 1997, said Elif Fehm-Sullivan, a fisheries biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Then, just last year, five fish somehow passed over a barrier intended to keep them out of the low-flow portion of the San Joaquin. Two of them made it all the way to the base of Friant Dam, Fehm-Sullivan said.

Still, she said, this is probably the first time salmon will have had a chance to spawn in that area since the Friant water diversions started.

Whatever happens, officials hope to gain more information about whether conditions below the dam are suitable for fish. Acoustic tags were placed on the salmon to allow scientists to track their progress, said Margaret Gidding, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's San Joaquin River restoration program.

"This will answer a whole lot of questions," Gidding said.

Record salmon return on Russian River


A record number of Chinook and Coho salmon are moving up the Russian River to spawn, an indication of rich ocean conditions necessary for those fish to survive, fisheries biologists said.

It may also be an indication that the millions of dollars being spent on habitat restoration to keep those fish from extinction may also be working.

There have been 6,348 Chinook salmon photographed as of Wednesday moving through the fish ladders at the Sonoma County Water Agency's dam at Forestville, which is inflated during low river flows to create a pool for the agency's water pumping system.

The number surpasses the record 6,103 seen in 2003 and is the third year that the numbers for that fish, which is on the threatened list, has increased, said Dave Manning, principal environmental specialist for the Water Agency.

“The good news is we officially have a record number of Chinook returning to the river. We have been getting a ton of fish returning the past few days,” Manning said. “We are definitely over that old record total number and we will probably beat it by quite some margin.”

The Water Agency has also counted 44 Coho salmon, which are an endangered species, moving through the Russian River near Austin Creek, even though it is still very early in that run.

Those salmon were tagged at the Warm Springs fish hatchery, where they are raised, before being released. The tags are read by an array of antennas at several spots of the Russian River and some of the tributaries.



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