The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has relocated 1.1 million juvenile fall-run Chinook salmon from the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery in Siskiyou County to a nearby satellite facility and to the Trinity River Hatchery, 122 miles away. There, the young Chinooks will remain until conditions improve from the drought impacting the Klamath River.
The baby salmon, about seven months old and about three inches in length, normally are released into the Klamath River in May and June. Due to warm water, low water flow and exceedingly high probability of the fish succumbing to disease in the river, a decision was made to retain these salmon within the hatchery system over the summer, until conditions in the Klamath River improve, CDFW officials said.
The unprecedented relocation came after extensive monitoring discussion and close collaboration with federal partners, academic specialists and three Native American tribes on the Lower Klamath Basin. This temporary relocation marks the first time CDFW has not released salmon into the Klamath River since construction of the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery in 1962.
Another one million juvenile Chinook salmon are expected to remain at the Iron Gate hatchery.
Mark Clifford, hatchery environmental scientist for CDFW’s northern region, noted that it’s extremely challenging to raise cold water fish species in a drought. “The reality is most of these fish would have died if we released them into the river,” he said. “We need to maintain the integrity of the fall run on the Klamath River and we especially can‘t afford to lose this generation of fish,” he said.
Four Klamath River dams are slated for removal by 2024, constituting the largest dam removal undertaking in U.S. history. Dam removal is expected to restore fish access to the entire river and the relocated Iron Gate fish could be the first salmon to return to a new Klamath River after their life in the ocean, finding miles of additional spawning habitat and contributing to future generations of wild fish.
CDFW officials said when conditions improve, and before the fish are ultimately released into the Klamath River, the relocated salmon will be returned to the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery for a number of weeks, to allow the fish to further imprint on the Klamath River. All of the relocated salmon have been outfitted with unique coded wire tags to allow CDFW and other agencies to determine their origin and destination.
All of their adipose fins have been removed to visibly identify them as hatchery reared fish, CDFW officials said.