Salmon and Steelhead

Robust annual salmon migrations have long been a sign of a healthy Pacific Northwest ecosystem. Today, sadly, wild salmon and steelhead populations in California are threatened with extinction.  The California Ocean Protection Council is currently exploring how and what can be done to add value to the myriad of existing efforts to protect this iconic species for centuries to come.

During the mid 19th century, the large numbers of salmon returning to their spawning grounds was so legendary that the Gold miners wrote letters home coining the phrase about ‘walking across the backs of salmon’ in order to traverse the rivers.  But this is no longer the case.  The West Coast commercial salmon fishery was closed in 2008 and again in 2009 due to record low returns of fall run Chinook salmon to the Sacramento River.  Scientists have stated that approximately 60,000 Chinook reached the Sacramento area to spawn this year compared to 800,000 in 2002.

The reasons for the collapse of the salmon stocks are varied and not without a high level of controversy.  However, some of the leading causes for the decline in the salmon populations include: dams and other barriers to fish passage including roads, water diversions from rivers as well as water pollution, historic over-fishing, fish hatcheries, ocean conditions, invasive species, climate change, habitat destruction and related impacts from agriculture and logging have all led to a substantial loss of salmon stocks throughout the West Coast over the past 150 years.

Staff works with a wide variety of agencies, NGOs and fishing groups including: the fisheries branch of the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), members of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the State Coastal Conservancy (SCC).

Three major projects the OPC has funded include a study to determine water flow necessary for salmon survival in the Shasta River, the Santa Maria River and the Big Sur River.  These three studies will look at a variety of life stages of salmon and determine the amount, flow and temperature of water that will allow salmon to migrate, rear and spawn in both of these rivers.  For more information, please click here for the staff recommendation on these in-stream flow projects.

Staff held two public forums on the issues in the Bay Area and another in the Eureka area in 2008.  At the September 11, 2008 OPC meeting, the council heard testimony and focused on salmon and fisheries issues.  We look forward to your continued participation and input on state efforts regarding salmon recovery.


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Photo Credit Thomas Dunklin
Photo Credit: Thomas B. Dunklin


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Categories: Aquaculture, Sustainable Fisheries and Marine Ecosystems