By Macy Jenkins

SACRAMENTO (CBS 13) — The state’s largest fish hatchery on the Sacramento River is facing a severe salmon shortage.

The Coleman National Fish Hatchery says it will release half the number of fish that it usually releases.

“Coleman Hatchery can produce basically 12 million smolts in a year,” said Vance Staplin, a board member with the Golden Gate Salmon Association. “This year, they only have enough eggs for 6 million.”

This started three years ago during the drought when 12 million Chinook salmon from Coleman Hatchery in Anderson were carried 280 miles by truck to the Delta. Instinctively, the fish return home after two to three years. Coleman typically expects 30,000 fish to return, but this fall, only 3,000 or 10 percent of those fish found their way back.

“Salmon need cold water,” Staplin explained. “They need to have it to survive, they need it for their eggs, to live throughout the winter.”

Considering lower than expected returns, Coleman expects to release far fewer fish than anticipated: just 6 million of the 12 million salmon they plan to release each spring.

“The upper Sacramento [River] is gonna be hurting,” Staplin said.

But CBS13 wanted to know how a shortage at Coleman would affect the salmon population across the state.

“They’ve got good returns in the other hatcheries,” Staplin said. “Coleman is the one that’s down dramatically. A lot of it is going to depend on what we get from spring runoff.”

He told CBS 13 that in order to see healthy salmon numbers, a good amount of water needs to flow from the mountains to push the salmon down the river.

Fish taken from Coleman have a coded wire tag in their tails, so they’re easy to track.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the hatchery had a fairly good return of two-year fish come back, which is a good sign that there are still a fair number that will return home in the future.

“There’s indicators out there, but we’re really not going to know anything for two years,” Staplin said. “Nobody knows for sure; we’re talking fish here!”

In 2017, the fish were released in Battle Creek near Coleman Hatchery. But because fish take two to three years to return home, Shane Hunt with U.S. Fish and Wildlife says we won’t know if the salmon population has bounced back until 2020.

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