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Increasing Salmon Production in the Central Valley

The state of California has a comprehensive Water Plan to provide a guide for the state’s future water supply.  Why is there no state Salmon Plan?  California also has a plan to restore Bay-Delta habitat called California EcoRestore.  Why not a SalmonRestore, or at least a comprehensive salmon plan as a part of EcoRestore?

Much of the key to increasing salmon production in the Central Valley is to increase flows in rivers and Delta inflow and outflow.  Another key element is to improve reservoir management for water temperatures and the protection of spawning habitat downstream of dams.  Water in sufficient quantity and of sufficient quality is indispensable.

In addition to better water management, the state needs a plan to implement five basic physical approaches to increasing salmon production in the Central Valley.

  1. Restore River Rearing Habitat – Restore river corridor and side-channel rearing habitat in the mainstem rivers and tributaries
  2. Restore Floodplain Rearing Habitat – Increase volitional access of juvenile salmon to the Valley’s agricultural floodplain through gated weirs; enhance such rearing habitat, and implement strategies to reduce stranding of adult and juvenile salmon in that habitat.
  3. Restore Spawning Habitat – Restore salmon spawning habitat in the mainstem rivers and their tributaries by introducing spawning gravel and improving other physical aspects of channel habitat.
  4. Implement Upstream and Downstream Trap and Haul Capture juvenile salmonids and transport them from existing spawning areas downstream in dry years when low flows and resulting high water temperatures are unsuitable for volitional downstream migration and survival. Capture and transport adult salmon to upper watersheds above impassable dams, and capture and transport their juvenile progeny back downstream of those dams to locations where high survival is likely.
  5. Increase Hatchery Contributions – Increase the number of hatchery smolts that reach the ocean, while minimizing negative effects of hatcheries on wild salmon populations.

Available options in each of the five categories are virtually limitless, as are the potential costs and benefits.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has a Recovery Plan for salmonid species that are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.  Such recovery is valuable and important.  But fisheries agencies also can and must do better in supporting the commercial and recreational fishing industries that depend largely on fall-run salmon that are not listed under the ESA.  A state Salmon Plan should be part of the strategy, and the sooner the better.