CDFW, Tribe Sign Agreements for Salmon Restoration Project

Left to right: California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham, Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk and Cathy Marcinkevage, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region. Photo via CDFW.

In May, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe signed agreements to restore Chinook salmon to the mountains north of Redding, Calif.

The goal is the ecological and cultural restoration of the Chinooks to travel to cold mountain rivers now blocked by the Shasta Reservoir, and one day renew fishing opportunities for the tribe that for many years depended on the once-plentiful salmon for food and more.

CDFW officials described the collaboration as a historic achievement that advances common goals. Three years of drought have taken a toll on the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon that migrate and spawn in the Lower Sacramento River. The river can warm to temperatures lethal to the salmon eggs.

In the summer of 2022, tribes worked with state and federal agencies to improve the odds for winter-run Chinook salmon. This included transport of 40,000 fertilized eggs to the cold McCloud River above Shasta Reservoir.

Many of those eggs hatched, with the juvenile fish swimming down river for the first time since Shasta Dam was completed in the early 1940s. Those young fish were collected before they reached the reservoir and biologists then moved them downstream around the reservoir to continue to the ocean.

CDFW has awarded a $2.3 million grant to support the tribe’s participation in salmon-related issues. The government agencies also agreed to evaluate the potential re-introduction of Chinook salmon that were moved from the McCloud River in California to streams in New Zealand more than 100 years ago. The fish have strong cultural and spiritual significance for the tribes.

In 2022, the California Department of Water Resources tested an experimental system for collecting juvenile winter-run salmon that hatch in the McCloud River as part of a larger-scale future re-introduction program.

The department plans continued testing later this year. Recovery plans for the species call for an ongoing program of annual transplants of winter-run Chinook salmon to spawning habitat in the McCloud River, where they would be safer from rising temperatures due to climate change.