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Saving Stranded Salmon

California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff weigh and measure Chinook salmon just before releasing them into the Sacramento River. Photo Credit: NOAA California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff weigh and measure Chinook salmon just before releasing them into the Sacramento River. Photo Credit: NOAA

By: Michael Woodbridge

Permitted use provided by: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

They were big, approximately 15 pounds on average, and there were dozens of them. While Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge wildlife biologist Mike Carpenter was out conducting a wildlife survey on the refuge, he noticed movement in the water below a water control structure called Dam One. Located next to the public wildlife auto tour route, Dam One serves as one of the water delivery sites used by the refuge to manage wetlands that provide vital habitat for hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl during the winter months.

Carpenter knew something wasn’t right, so he contacted fish biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) for assistance. Working together, refuge and CDFW staff caught some of the fish. They turned out to be Chinook salmon that had inadvertently found their way into this waterway and intuitively followed it upstream on their spawning migration. Some were missing their adipose fin, an indication that they were hatchery raised salmon. A number of the fish were previously tagged, and upon reading the information on the tags, staff learned the fish were winter-run Chinook, an endangered species.

Refuge and CDFW staff using seine nets and dip nets, caught and rescued stranded salmon. - Photo Credit: NOAARefuge and CDFW staff using seine nets and dip nets, caught and rescued stranded salmon.
Photo Credit: NOAA

Since the fish were an endangered species, a permit was required before refuge and CDFW staff could handle the fish. Working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, a permit was quickly acquired and the agencies cooperated in an effort to rescue the wayward salmon. Time was of the essence, as the summer heat in the Central Valley was making the water increasingly unsuitable for the salmon to survive.

Over the course of a few days, approximately 235 salmon were rescued and released into the Sacramento River. During that time, more salmon were spotted just outside of the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, a few miles away, in a larger canal within the same system. Crews went to that site as well, and using the same techniques of seine nets and dip nets, caught and rescued three more fish.

Crews walk the drainage with dip nets to corral the stranded salmon. Photo Credit: NOAACrews walk the drainage with dip nets to corral the stranded salmon. Photo Credit: NOAA

The area has continued to be monitored regularly, and a little more than 250 total salmon have been rescued to date (as of 5/28/13). Some of these salmon were taken directly to the Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery to be spawned.

While no one knows exactly how the salmon got into Logan Creek, the quick action by refuge staff and cooperative efforts with NOAA and CDFW means these Chinook salmon will have a second chance to reach their spawning grounds further up the Sacramento River.

Michael Woodbridge is a Public Affairs Officer at the Pacific Southwest Regional Office in Sacramento, California.

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