State and Federal Agencies Evaluate New Drought Contingency Plan

Plan wants to help commercial fishing

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have agreed on a temporary contingency plan for the release of hatchery smolts in 2014 due to drought.

The goal of the contingency plan outlined on Monday is to ensure the greatest survival of Chinook salmon smolts released from hatcheries managed by CDFW and the USFWS under current drought conditions. The plan includes thresholds for trucking all or part of Sacramento River Basin salmon smolts to selected net pen locations downstream of the Delta. 

“While we know that our hatchery systems in California need ultimately to move away from trucking to reduce the adverse biological effects that trucking causes," said Dan Castleberry, assistant regional director for the USFWS, "this drought and what we are predicting for in-river conditions in the next few months for out-migrating fish requires us to consider exceptions to the preferred approach."

This decision and the contingency plan are informed by discussions with leaders in the California commercial fishing industry.

“It is important to recognize two things: first, our decision to adapt fast to drought and truck fish this year should not be used to argue against long-term reform of our hatcheries,” said CDFW director Charlton H. Bonham. “Second, the state and federal agencies care greatly about this state’s salmon and the fishing industry. We need to take these adaptive approaches given the severity of this drought.”

Trucking all or part of the fall-run Chinook is only being considered as a one-time action at this time. But for the drought, agencies have been striving to increase smolt releases into the rivers where the hatcheries operate to allow for the more natural migration of fish. 

“We have been working closely with our partners at USFWS and CDFW in reviewing their efforts for transporting hatchery production of salmon smolts to the ocean during this severe drought year,” said Will Stelle, NMFS West Coast regional administrator. “We strongly support these efforts and share in the commitment for long-term reform of hatchery practices that impact wild salmon stocks.”

CDFW will continue the important barge study , which keeps protected smolts in recirculating water as they are taken downstream so they pick up the chemical cues, in hopes to improve the survival rate of migrating salmon.

“We are pleased the USFWS, CDFW and NMFS have spent so much time trying to help solve this problem with us,” said Zeke Grader, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Salmon is a serious business in California.”

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