Salmon run bigger this year

But fishing restrictions remain in force
By: Kristine Guerra and Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writers
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The numbers are low by historical standards, but this year’s expected 122,000 salmon run on the Sacramento River is promising. “Any improvement is good news because we’re so depleted it’s near extinction,” Jack Sanchez, president and founder of Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead — or SARSAS — said Monday. Sanchez, whose goal is to bring salmon back to the Auburn Ravine and into the Auburn School Park Preserve, said the state’s restrictions on commercial and sport fishing for the past couple of years are a major reason for the increase. “I would think another two years of banning professional fishing off the coast would allow the salmon population to recover,” he said. “If they weren’t the most miraculous creatures on Earth, they’d have been extinct a long time ago. But they are the most amazing survivors in the animal kingdom.” Water agencies are also doing their part. “In California, there seems to be a movement among local water companies to provide enough water during the salmon runs to allow the salmon to spawn,” Sanchez said. Officials at Nimbus Fish Hatchery, on the American River, said 729 late-fall run Chinook salmon came into the Gold Run facility Thursday. The state-run hatchery harvested 747,000 eggs out of 280 salmon spawned. “We are cautiously optimistic that we will have sufficient fish return to get enough eggs to meet our goal for raising and returning fish into the system, said Harry Morse, public information officer for Nimbus Fish Hatchery. The hatchery is hoping to spawn about 2,500 salmon to get 6 million eggs this year. The hatchery will be spawning Tuesdays and Thursdays until December, Morse said. “Last year, 66,000 fall-run Chinook salon returned to the Sacramento River system,” Morse said. “Normally we expect between 120,000 and 180,000 fall-run Chinook salmon.” In 2002, more than 800,000 fall Chinook salmon returned to the Sacramento River system — the highest number in recent years, Morse said. According to Sanchez, the number of salmon making the turn into the American River represents only a small percentage of the total salmon run on the Sacramento River. The higher-density run this year means there’s more likelihood some of the fish will find their way into the Auburn Ravine tributary. SARSAS has been preparing for the fish, working with state and federal agencies, landowners and water companies to free up waterways for the run. “We’ve opened eight dams below the city of Lincoln (on the Auburn Ravine),” Sanchez said. “All eight dams are now in compliance with upstream fish passage to allow salmon to reach the city of Lincoln.” Once there, there’s a limited amount of spawning grounds, he said. Sanchez’s ultimate goal is to open the entire 33-mile-long Auburn Ravine for salmon. “There’s a concerted effort on the part of fishermen, water companies, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Fish and Game to see the salmon run survive,” he said. Salmon season remains restricted this year to conserve the late-fall Chinook run. “This represents more than $200 million loss to the economy,” Morse said. “They’re a very valuable commodity.” ---------- Fall run Chinook salmon that returned in the Sacramento region Last year (record low): 66,000 returned This year: 122,050 are expected to return Best year in last decade (2002): 800,000 returned Open fisheries: Sacramento River from 150 feet below the Lower Red Bluff (Sycamore) Boat Ramp to the Highway 113 bridge at Knights Landing will be open from Nov. 16 to Dec. 31. Fishery has very limited access to late-fall run Chinook salmon. Sacramento, Feather, American and San Joaquin rivers will remain closed to salmon fishing.