By Ryan Hill

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – You’ve seen salmon in the river, on a fishhook or on a dinner plate, but there’s potential for the salmon population to be severely impacted in the Sacramento River.

John McManus is the president of the Golden State Salmon Association.

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He fears that if the water temperatures in the river continue to stay as high as they’re at, juvenile salmon would literally be sleeping with the fishes.

“When adult salmon continue to come back this year out of the ocean and into the Central Valley to spawn, their eggs will be laid in water that is too hot. And those eggs will die,” McManus said. “If the river temperatures remain as they are, salmon would be driven from the area. They’ll be driven into extinction.”

The project leader at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Coleman National Fish Hatchery told CBS13 that the odds are good if the young fish find cold water and avoid predators once they hatch.

“However, once they’re in the egg stage and they’re in the gravel, they’re pretty much locked in there and have to experience the warmer water. And there’s not much that can be done once the cold water pool is lost,” Brett Galyean, the project leader for Coleman National Fish Hatchery,

But things are being done to help the salmon population.

Aside from other relocation efforts, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife also moved 1.1 million salmon to a hatchery instead of releasing them into the Klamath River due to drought and other issues.

Galyean said they’re also moving hatchery-born salmon and trying to preserve wild ones.

“So we increased our collection efforts from 60 females and 120 males to 120 females and 180 males to try to take additional broodstock into the hatchery to minimize any of the impacts of potential warm water would have on the endangered winter Chinook salmon,” Galyean said.

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The heat and the rush are on to protect this praised fish. But there’s hope once the temps drop and the drought gets better.

“We’ve seen this before. With proper water management, we can come back from it,” McManus said.

“The agencies are working hard and we are trying our best,” Galyean said.

The CDFW sent CBS13 the following statement regarding the situation:

“CDFW and many other agencies have been very open about the risks of this drought including to winter-run Chinook salmon. In the update, a CDFW staff member noted that one of these risks was the possibility of a near-complete loss of in-river juveniles based on potential water and weather predictions.

Modeling of monthly operations predicts high levels of mortality for Chinook salmon during egg incubation in the Sacramento River due to limited cold-water pool in Lake Shasta and downstream water deliveries. Unanticipated depletions downstream have resulted in increased releases from numerous reservoirs in the Central Valley. The State Water Project and Central Valley Water Project are attempting to balance many beneficial uses, including municipal drinking water. Chinook salmon mortality during egg incubation could be higher than originally predicted. It’s an extreme set of cascading climate events pushing us into this crisis situation.

It is also important to point out that counts of salmon carcasses, which is an annual monitoring effort to observe the natural life-cycle of these fish, continue to indicate a large run of winter-run this year. This is welcomed news overall.

To mitigate for these challenges, we’ve already taken the proactive measure of trucking millions of hatchery-raised juvenile Central Valley fall-run Chinook salmon this spring to San Pablo Bay, San Francisco Bay and seaside net pens due to projected poor river conditions in the Central Valley. The massive trucking operation is designed to ensure the highest level of survival for the young salmon on their hazardous journey to the Pacific Ocean and will transport around 20 percent more salmon around the Central Valley rivers and Delta than in typical water years. 

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This underscores the importance of Governor Newsom’s announcement last week calling on Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15 percent with simple measures to protect water reserves and to help maintain critical flows for fish and wildlife wherever possible. Every drop counts.”