Warming rivers in US West killing fish, imperiling industry

Jul 26, 2021, 6:14 AM | Updated: 6:36 am
In this photo provided by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, juvenile Chinook salmon f...

In this photo provided by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, juvenile Chinook salmon flow through a tube toward a hatchery truck at the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery, Siskiyou County, Calif., before their relocation on July 7, 2021. Recently California fish and wildlife officials decided not to release more than 1 million hatchery-raised baby chinook salmon into the wild, and instead drove them to several hatcheries that could host them until Klamath River conditions improve. (Travis VanZant/CDFW via AP)​

(Travis VanZant/CDFW via AP)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Baby salmon are dying by the thousands in one California river, and an entire run of endangered salmon could be wiped out in another. Fishermen who make their living off adult salmon, once they enter the Pacific Ocean, are sounding the alarm as blistering heat waves and extended drought in the U.S. West raise water temperatures and imperil fish from Idaho to California.

Hundreds of thousands of young salmon are dying in Northern California’s Klamath River as low water levels brought about by drought allow a parasite to thrive, devastating a Native American tribe whose diet and traditions are tied to the fish. And wildlife officials said the Sacramento River is facing a “near-complete loss” of young Chinook salmon due to abnormally warm water.

A crash in one year’s class of young salmon can have lasting effects on the total population and shorten or stop the fishing season, a growing concern as climate change continues to make the West hotter and drier. That could be devastating to the commercial salmon fishing industry, which in California alone is worth $1.4 billion.

The plummeting catch already has led to skyrocketing retail prices for salmon, hurting customers who say they can no longer afford the $35 per pound of fish, said Mike Hudson, who has spent the last 25 years catching and selling salmon at farmers markets in Berkeley.

Hudson said he has considered retiring and selling his 40-foot (12-meter) boat because “it’s going to get worse from here.”

Winter-run Chinook salmon are born in the Sacramento River, traverse hundreds of miles to the Pacific, where they normally spend three years before returning to their birthplace to mate and lay their eggs between April and August. Unlike the fall-run Chinook that survives almost entirely due to hatchery breeding programs, the winter run is still largely reared in the wild.

Federal fisheries officials predicted in May that more than 80% of baby salmon could die because of warmer water in the Sacramento River. Now, state wildlife officials say that number could be higher amid a rapidly depleting pool of cool water in Lake Shasta. California’s largest reservoir is filled to only about 35% capacity, federal water managers said this week.

“The pain we’re going to feel is a few years from now, when there will be no naturally spawned salmon out in the ocean,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden State Salmon Association, which represents the fishing industry.

When Lake Shasta was formed in the 1940s, it blocked access to the cool mountain streams where fish traditionally spawned. To ensure their survival, the U.S. government is required to maintain river temperatures below 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius) in spawning habitat because salmon eggs generally can’t withstand anything warmer.

The warm water is starting to affect older fish, too. Scientists have seen some adult fish dying before they can lay their eggs.

“An extreme set of cascading climate events is pushing us into this crisis situation,” said Jordan Traverso, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Wildlife and Fish.

The West has been grappling with a historic drought and recent heat waves worsened by climate change, stressing waterways and reservoirs that sustain millions of people and wildlife.

As a result, the state has been trucking millions of salmons raised at hatcheries to the ocean each year, bypassing the perilous downstream journey. State and federal hatcheries take other extraordinary measures to preserve the decimated salmon stocks, such as maintaining a genetic bank to prevent inbreeding at hatcheries and releasing them at critical life stages, when they can recognize and return to the water where they were born.

Fishermen and environmental groups blame water agencies for diverting too much water too soon to farms, which could lead to severe salmon die-off and drive the species closer to extinction.

“We know that climate change is going to make years like this more common, and what the agencies should be doing is managing for the worst-case scenario,” said Sam Mace, a director of Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition working to restore wild salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.

“We need some real changes in how rivers are managed if they’re going to survive,” she added.

On the Klamath River near the Oregon state line, California wildlife officials decided not to release more than 1 million young Chinook salmon into the wild and instead drove them to hatcheries that could host them until river conditions improve.

Much is riding on this class of salmon because it could be the first to return to the river if plans to remove four of six dams on the Klamath and restore fish access to the upper river go according to plan.

Across the West, officials are struggling with the similar concerns over fish populations.

In Idaho, officials recognized that endangered sockeye salmon wouldn’t make their upstream migration through hundreds of miles of warm water to their spawning habitat, so they flooded the Snake River with cool water, then trapped and trucked the fish to hatcheries.

And environmentalists went to court this month in Portland, Oregon, to try to force dam operators on the Snake and Columbia rivers to release more water at dams blocking migrating salmon, arguing that the effects of climate change and a recent heat wave were further threatening fish already on the verge of extinction.

Low water levels are also affecting recreational fishing. Officials in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and California are asking anglers to fish during the coolest parts of the day to minimize the impact on fish stressed from low-oxygen levels in warm water.

Scientists say the salmon population in California historically has rebounded after a drought because they have evolved to tolerate the Mediterranean-like climate and benefited from rainy, wet years. But an extended drought could lead to extinction of certain runs of salmon.

“We’re at the point where I’m not sure drought is appropriate term to describe what’s happening,” said Andrew Rypel, a fish ecologist at the University of California, Davis. He said the West is transitioning to an increasingly water-scarce environment.

Hudson, the fisherman, said he used to spend days at sea when the salmon season was longer and could catch 100 fish per day.

This year, he said he was lucky to catch 80 to sell at the market.

“Retiring would be the smart thing to do, but I can’t bring myself to do it because these fish have been so good to us for all these years,” Hudson said. “I can’t just walk away from it.”

___

Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon, and Jim Anderson in Denver contributed to this report.

___

See AP’s complete coverage of the drought: https://apnews.com/hub/droughts.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - An Amazon Prime logo appears on the side of a delivery van as it departs an Amazon Warehouse...
Associated Press

Amazon to hold holiday shopping event in October

Amazon said Monday that next month it will hold a second Prime Day-like shopping event, making it the latest major retailer to offer holiday deals earlier this year to entice cautious consumers struggling with tighter budgets. During the Oct. 11-12 event, Amazon Prime members will get early access to discounted items. The “Prime Early Access […]
23 hours ago
FILE -Visitors walk across the Yalu River Broken Bridge, right, next to the Friendship Bridge conne...
Associated Press

Seoul says North Korea, China reopen freight train traffic

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea and China resumed freight train service Monday following a five-month hiatus, South Korean officials said, as the North struggles to revive an economy battered by the pandemic, U.N. sanctions and other factors. The reopening came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month made a dubious claim […]
23 hours ago
Victoria Colson, 31, of Tampa loads sandbags into her truck along with other Tampa residents who wa...
Associated Press

Cuba prepares evacuations as strengthening TS Ian nears

HAVANA (AP) — Authorities in Cuba suspended classes in Pinar del Rio province and said they will begin evacuations Monday as Tropical Storm Ian was forecast to strengthen into a hurricane before reaching the western part of the island on its way to Florida. A hurricane warning was in effect for Grand Cayman and the […]
23 hours ago
The United Nations Security Council meets on the situation in Ukraine, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 at ...
Associated Press

Politics impede long-advocated growth of UN Security Council

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Virtually everyone involved agrees: Almost eight decades after it came into existence, the powerful U.N. Security Council needs to expand, to evolve, to include more voices. But as with so many things, the central question — and the biggest disagreement — is exactly how. Five countries that were major powers at […]
23 hours ago
FILE - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers speaks during...
Associated Press

From Yale to jail: Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes’ path

PHOENIX (AP) — Long before he assembled one of the largest far-right anti-government militia groups in U.S. history, before his Oath Keepers stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Stewart Rhodes was a promising Yale Law School graduate. He secured a clerkship on the Arizona Supreme Court, in part thanks to his unusual life […]
23 hours ago
Amanda Rouser poses for a photo in front of a recruiting desk for new poll workers at Atlanta City ...
Associated Press

False claims, threats fuel poll worker sign-ups for midterms

ATLANTA (AP) — Outraged by false allegations of fraud against a Georgia elections employee in 2020, Amanda Rouser made a vow as she listened to the woman testify before Congress in June about the racist threats and harassment she faced. “I said that day to myself, ‘I’m going to go work in the polls, and […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Warming rivers in US West killing fish, imperiling industry