State and Federal Agencies Evaluate New Drought Contingency Plan To Help Commercial Fishing and Utilize Trucking of Salmon Smolts

Media Contacts:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937
Steve Martarano, USFWS Communications, (916) 930-5643
Jim Milbury, NMFS Communications, (310) 245-7114

State and Federal Agencies Evaluate New Drought Contingency Plan To Help Commercial Fishing and Utilize Trucking of Salmon Smolts

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have agreed on a temporary contingency plan for the release of hatchery smolts in 2014 due to drought.

The goal of the contingency plan outlined today is to ensure the greatest survival of Chinook salmon smolts released from hatcheries managed by CDFW and the USFWS under current drought conditions. The plan includes thresholds for trucking all or part of Sacramento River Basin salmon smolts to selected net pen locations downstream of the Delta.

“While we know that our hatchery systems in California need ultimately to move away from trucking to reduce the adverse biological effects that trucking causes, this drought and what we are predicting for in-river conditions in the next few months for out-migrating fish requires us to consider exceptions to the preferred approach,” said Dan Castleberry, Assistant Regional Director for the USFWS.

This decision and the contingency plan are informed by lengthy and collaborative discussions with leaders in the California commercial fishing industry. After these discussions and input from NMFS, CDFW and USFWS this approach was pursued because of the exceptional circumstances created by the current drought in the state, and the risks of those circumstances to salmon and the commercial salmon fishing industry. California is facing an extreme drought. These extreme drought conditions are forcing these agencies to consider actions to preserve the future of salmon fishing in California.

“It is important to recognize two things: first, our decision to adapt fast to drought and truck fish this year should not be used to argue against long-term reform of our hatcheries,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “Second, the state and federal agencies care greatly about this state’s salmon and the fishing industry. We need to take these adaptive approaches given the severity of this drought.”

Trucking all or part of the fall-run Chinook is only being considered as a one-time action at this time. But for the drought, agencies have been striving to increase smolt releases into the rivers where the hatcheries operate to allow for the more natural migration of anadromous fish. Salmon return to their spawning grounds using their sense of smell. The process, called imprinting, begins before birth as waters flow over the eggs and continues as they grow and make their way to the ocean. Each segment of water on their journey has distinctive chemical cues, which they can re-trace to their spawning grounds.

“We have been working closely with our partners at USFWS and CDFW in reviewing their efforts for transporting hatchery production of salmon smolts to the ocean during this severe drought year,” said Will Stelle, NMFS West Coast Regional Administrator. “We strongly support these efforts and share in the commitment for long-term reform of hatchery practices that impact wild salmon stocks.”

This contingency plan is designed to ensure the most smolts reach the ocean taking into account the drought. Trucking of smolts from CDFW’s Sacramento basin hatcheries is regarded as the best management option at this time based on projected water flows and conditions during the outmigration of smolts. Up to 18.4 million Sacramento fall-run Chinook smolts will be evaluated for potential trucking during April, May and June 2014.

CDFW will continue the important barge study, which keeps protected smolts in recirculating water as they are taken downstream so they pick up the chemical cues, in hopes to improve the survival rate of migrating salmon.

Consultation and coordination will continue over the coming weeks between CDFW, USFWS and NMFS to fine-tune and implement this plan. Should drought conditions change, all parties will quickly re-evaluate and possibly reverse this action.

Sacramento fall-run Chinook salmon are the primary driver of ocean commercial and recreational fisheries. Trucking of smolts from inland hatcheries to net pen sites at Jersey Point and San Pablo Bay helps minimize in-river losses to unsuitable water quality conditions, predation and entrainment due to during drought conditions.

In the fall of 2013, 444,000 Chinook adult salmon returned to the Central Valley to spawn. Most spawned in natural areas now being impacted by drought. The deterioration of river conditions will affect the survival of their off-spring.

Klamath Basin fall run Chinook salmon raised at two state operated hatcheries are not expected to need out migration assistance at this time. At Iron Gate Hatchery, on the Klamath River, a release plan includes alternate release site use downstream as identified in the hatchery genetic management plan.

“We are pleased the USFWS, CDFW and NMFS have spent so much time trying to help solve this problem with us,” said Zeke Grader, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Salmon is a serious business in California.”

See the contingency plans here:
CDFW: Contingency Release Strategies for Juvenile, Feather River Hatchery
Spring-Run Chinook Salmon due to Severe Drought, 2014
USFWS: Contingency Release Strategies for Coleman National Fish Hatchery Juvenile Fall Chinook Salmon due to Severe Drought Conditions in 2014

With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. The Governor signed legislation to immediately help communities deal with the devastating dry conditions affecting our state and to provide funding to increase local water supplies after it was passed with bipartisan support in the legislature.

Governor Brown met with President Obama about crucial federal support during the ongoing drought, and the state continues to work with federal partners to ensure coordinated drought monitoring and response. Governor Brown and the administration have also expressed support for federal legislation introduced by Senators Feinstein and Boxer and Representatives Jim Costa, Tony Cárdenas and Sam Farr.

Across state government, action is being taken. The Department of General Services is leading water conservation efforts at state facilities, and the California State Architect has asked California school districts and Community Colleges to act on the Governor’s call to reduce water usage. The Department of Transportation is cutting water usage along California’s roadways by 50 percent. Caltrans has also launched a public awareness campaign, putting a water conservation message on their more than 700 electronic highway signs.

In January, the state took action to conserve water in numerous Northern California reservoirs to meet minimum needs for operations impacting the environment and the economy, and recently the Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced they would seek the authority to make water exchanges to deliver water to those who need it most. The State Water Resources Control Board announced it would work with hydropower generators and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to preserve water in California reservoirs, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Fish and Game Commission restricted fishing on some waterways due to low water flows worsened by the drought.

The state is working to protect local communities from the dangers of extreme drought. The California Department of Public Health identified and offered assistance to communities at risk of severe drinking water shortages and is working with other state and local agencies to develop solutions for vulnerable communities. CAL FIRE hired additional firefighters and is continuously adjusting staffing throughout the state to help address the increased fire threat due to drought conditions. The California Department of Food and Agriculture launched a drought website to help farmers, ranchers and farmworkers find resources and assistance programs that may be available to them during the drought.

Even as the state deals with the immediate impacts of the drought, it’s also planning for the future. In 2013, the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and CDFA released the California Water Action Plan, which will guide state efforts to enhance water supply reliability, restore damaged and destroyed ecosystems and improve the resilience of our infrastructure.

Governor Brown has called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent, and the Save Our Water campaign launched four public service announcements encouraging residents to conserve and has resources available in Spanish. Last December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations and California’s preparedness for water scarcity. In May 2013, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water.