Bacterial Outbreak Forces Euthanization of Fish at Three Southern California Hatcheries

Three California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) fish hatchery facilities in the eastern Sierra and Southern California have been battling a bacterial outbreak that has affected 3.2 million fish. This week, after consultation with fish pathology experts and exhausting all avenues of treatment, CDFW announced that the fish, which are all trout, at the affected facilities must be euthanized in order to stop the spread of the outbreak.

The affected facilities – Mojave River Hatchery, Black Rock Hatchery and Fish Springs Hatchery – usually provide fish for stocking waterways in CDFW’s South Coast Region and Inland Deserts Region. The euthanization of all the fish at these facilities will have a profound effect on CDFW’s ability to stock fish for anglers in those regions in the near future.

“Euthanizing our hatchery stocks was not a decision we came to lightly, but it had to be done,” said Jay Rowan environmental program manager for CDFW hatcheries. “This bacterium is resistant to all the treatment options we have available for fish. The fish losses were getting worse despite our treatments. The best option we have available that will get us back to planting fish from these hatcheries in the shortest timeline is to clear the raceways, thoroughly disinfect the facilities, and start over.”

CDFW has had the three facilities under quarantine for more than a month, while pathologists and hatchery staff treated the affected fish and researched potential options. The outbreak of Lactococcus garvieae, which is similar to streptococcus, has been reported in cattle and poultry farms as well as fresh and salt water fish and shellfish hatcheries around the world, but had never before been detected in fish in California. Research of treatment options employed at trout farms in Europe and other parts of the world show there is almost no chance for successfully eliminating the bacteria from a facility without depopulation and disinfection.

Fish that are infected with Lactococcus garvieae can show symptoms including bulging eyes, lethargic or erratic swimming and increased mortality, or be asymptomatic and show no signs of infection depending on a several factors including water temperature and stress. Fish-to-human transmission of this bacteria is rare and unlikely but there are several documented instances associated with immunocompromised people consuming infected raw fish and unpasteurized milk products.

Hot Creek Hatchery in the eastern Sierra has tested negative for the bacteria and is still planting eight waters in Inyo and Mono counties. CDFW is in the process of developing a modified stocking plan to reallocate fish from central and northern California hatcheries to a small number of high angler use, easily accessible waters in geographically distinct parts of the eastern Sierra and Southern California.

For real-time updates, California anglers can refer to CDFW’s Fish Planting Schedule. This schedule is updated directly by CDFW hatchery staff. Although it contains current information, all fish plants are subject to change depending on road, water, weather and operational conditions.

For additional information, please see CDFW’s frequently asked questions about the L. garvieae outbreak. Also, members of the public can email questions to hatcherybacteriainfo@wildlife.ca.gov.

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Media Contacts:
Jay Rowan, CDFW Hatchery Program, (916) 212-3164
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169

Mojave River Hatchery raceway

Bacterial Outbreak at CDFW Hatcheries Temporarily Halts Fish Stocking in Southern California

Several California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) fish hatchery facilities in the eastern Sierra and Southern California are battling a bacterial outbreak that has the potential to cause significant losses to both hatchery and wild fish populations. The outbreak of Lactococcus garvieae, which is similar to streptococcus, has sickened fish at the Mojave River Hatchery and has been detected at both the Black Rock and Fish Springs hatcheries. A fourth CDFW hatchery, Hot Creek Hatchery, was originally quarantined out of caution but after testing that quarantine has been lifted.

The L. garvieae bacteria has never before been detected in fish in California, and CDFW must take a cautious and careful approach to ensure the protection of the state’s aquatic resources – fish, hatchery facilities and public waterways. Infected fish can show symptoms including bulging eyes, lethargic or erratic swimming and increased mortality, or be asymptomatic and show no signs of infection depending on a several factors including water temperature and stress. Fish-to-human transmission of this bacteria is rare and unlikely.

Fish stocking has temporarily been halted from the facilities under quarantine while hatchery staff treats the affected fish populations and takes measures to prevent the spread of the bacteria. Planting will resume when fish have recovered from the infections and fisheries pathologists have determined that they no longer present a threat to the environment.

“This is a challenge for our hatcheries because the bacteria is previously unknown in California, and we don’t have tried-and-true strategies on hand to combat it,” said Jay Rowan, environmental program manager for CDFW’s Hatchery Production and Fish Health Laboratory. “A successful approach will have three components: Treating the affected fish at the hatcheries, finding the origin of the outbreak, and planning ahead to contain and prevent the spread of the bacteria. Unfortunately, we may be in for a long battle here, which means there will not be a lot of fish plants in the near future in the eastern Sierra and Southern California. I wish we could give anglers a target date for when we think we can start planting again, but it’s all up to how fast and how well the fish respond to the treatments.”

Current treatment measures at the hatcheries include keeping water temperatures low, reducing stress due to crowding and other factors, introducing antibiotic medication and special diet in order to assist the fish in fighting off the infection. CDFW is currently investigating the source of the outbreak. For additional information, please see CDFW’s frequently asked questions about the L. garvieae outbreak.

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Media Contacts:
Jay Rowan, CDFW Hatchery Program, (916) 212-3164
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169

Hatchery truck planting salmon smolts

CDFW Hatcheries Complete Release of 20 Million Young Salmon

Hatcheries operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in the Central Valley just completed the final release of young Chinook salmon raised this year. More than 20 million young salmon, called smolts, raised in four state-run hatcheries were released in various locations throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems, the Delta, San Pablo Bay and into a coastal net pen. These fish will return as adults to Central Valley tributaries to spawn in two to five years. They will provide a bulk of the commercial and sport catch of Chinook salmon off the California coast. Similarly, annual returns of hatchery reared salmon provide a large portion of the in-river sport fishing catch of Chinook salmon.

“This year was especially challenging with the restrictions involved due to COVID-19,” said Colin Purdy. “But rearing, tagging and releasing these young salmon was vital and essential to the future of our Chinook salmon stocks in the Central Valley. The whole process started last fall when eggs were taken at the hatcheries.”

In 2019, an estimated 271,697 Chinook salmon were harvested off the California coast by commercial fishermen, while approximately 88,464 were caught by recreational anglers and inland river fishermen reeled in more than 28,000. The four Central Valley hatcheries operated by CDFW, and Coleman National Fish Hatchery operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, produced the bulk of the 2019 harvest. California’s commercial and recreational salmon fishery is estimated to generate more than $500 million in annual income.

Feather River Hatchery produced 6.4 million fall-run Chinook salmon and 1.75 million spring-run Chinook salmon. Nimbus Fish Hatchery produced 4.4 million fall-run Chinook salmon and Merced River Hatchery produced 1.1 million fall-run Chinook salmon. Mokelumne River Hatchery produced 4.3 million fall-run Chinook salmon for their mitigation program, and an additional 3 million (also fall-run) for the Commercial Salmon Trollers Enhancement and Restoration Program.

Once the hatcheries rear the young salmon, the second phase of CDFW’s work is to tag a defined portion of the total production with tiny coded wire tags to allow scientist to track their eventual contribution to sport and commercial fisheries and their return rates. The last stage is releasing them in a variety of locations and in a manner that balances maximum survival for commercial and recreational fisheries and protection of genetic fitness to ensure long-term survival of the species. Releases take place at various locations along their home rivers, downstream in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, and into net pens in San Pablo Bay or along the coast.

Giant tanker trucks specially modified to carry salmon smolts are used to release millions of smolts from late February until June. They deliver hundreds of thousands of smolts weekly, via more than 50 individual releases. In most cases three to five truckloads of smolts are delivered during each release. The Feather River Hatchery routinely releases smolts into San Pablo Bay, a 250-mile roundtrip, while the longest run is from Mokelumne Hatchery to Monterey, at 340 miles.

“The coordination and logistics of spawning, rearing, tagging, transporting and releasing millions of smolts is a challenging job under normal circumstances,” Purdy said. “More than 100 employees, from fish pathologists to hatchery managers, staff and truck drivers, have to be scheduled throughout the cycle, well in advance of final release of fish. In light of this year’s rapidly evolving conditions and challenges, the completion of our 2020 releases is an especially sweet success.”

Hatchery workers typically have a wide range of job skills, making it possible to keep operations running even though hiring, training and supervising new workers during the last few months was not possible.

Each of CDFW hatcheries receives operational funding from various water managers, utility districts and water districts to provide mitigation for habitat lost due to dams. In addition, more than $250,000 in funding was provided by the commercial salmon industry to help raise 3 million smolts to benefit commercial ocean salmon fisheries.

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Media Contacts:
Colin Purdy, CDFW Fisheries Branch, (916) 358-2943
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169

Initiative Aims to Speed Coho Salmon Recovery in California Coastal Watersheds from Santa Cruz to Mendocino Counties

Coho salmon are getting a boost from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) strategic plan to prioritize salmon restoration and habitat improvement projects in coastal watersheds from Santa Cruz to Mendocino counties. In most of these watersheds, coho salmon are in severe decline or locally extinct due to human alterations to land and water resources.

The Priority Action Coho Team (PACT) is designed to focus much needed restoration to help maintain, stabilize and increase localized coho salmon populations. The approach of the PACT initiative is to identify and implement specific short-term actions, drawing from existing state and federal coho salmon recovery plans, to bring immediate benefits.

“PACT employs six strategies emphasizing planning actions and collaboration to accelerate coho salmon recovery from Santa Cruz to Mendocino counties,” said Kevin Shaffer, CDFW Branch Chief. “We look forward to working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and our many partners on collaborating to recover this amazing fish.”

Watersheds where PACT restoration projects are being implemented include Scott Creek in Santa Cruz County and the Russian River in Sonoma County, where a range of projects to restore and improve stream and estuarine habitat have been carried out. These initiatives include recovery actions such as stream habitat restoration, water conservation, captive rearing and fish rescue, together with improvements to permitting, regulatory and enforcement processes.

PACT was developed jointly by CDFW and NOAA Fisheries, and is part of several initiatives to accelerate the implementation of ecological restoration and stewardship projects in California. Complimentary efforts include the Cutting the Green Tape initiative recently launched by the California Natural Resources Agency, other state agencies and the North Coast Salmon Project.

More information about the PACT process, as well as the link to the report, can be found on the CDFW website.

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Media Contacts:
Stephen Swales, CDFW Fisheries Branch, (916) 376-1746
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169

CDFW fish hatchery planting trucks

CDFW’s Salmon Evacuation Decision Pays Exceptional Dividends

In February 2017, damage to the Oroville Dam’s spillways prompted the evacuation of more than 180,000 people living downstream along the Feather River. The raging muddy waters also triggered an emergency decision to relocate millions of young salmon from the Feather River Hatchery to the Thermalito Annex Hatchery to be raised and held until river water conditions improved. Most, if not all, of the young salmon would have otherwise died when mud from the raging river overwhelmed the hatchery waters.

About 2 million spring run Chinook and 5 million fall run Chinook were evacuated during the two-day flood event. Those fish survived and were later released to the wild – helping fuel a record class salmon harvest in the ocean two years later.

Last year, most of the rescued salmon had matured in the ocean and were ready for their migration home to the Feather River. Their survival helped power strong ocean fisheries with one of the largest commercial catches in decades. According to data collected by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), approximately 272,000 salmon were harvested in the commercial fishery along with a catch of nearly 88,500 in the recreational ocean fishery, while returns to the Feather River basin exceeded 70,000 in 2019.

Ocean fishing activities were an economic stimulus for local communities and industries along the coast and inland. Commercial trollers landed 2.6 million pounds of salmon valued at more than $17.2 million, which was the highest level of harvest since 2013. The Feather River Hatchery was estimated to have contributed one quarter of all commercially harvested salmon and one third of the recreational ocean harvest.

“The return of the salmon released from Feather River Hatchery after the flood event was exceptional,” said Kevin Shaffer, CDFW Acting Chief of the Wildlife Branch. “At several points in the crisis, the majority (if not all) of the young salmon could have been lost. If not for the hard work, ingenuity and dedication of the hatchery employees and staff we could have ended up with nothing.”

The effort to save the young salmon began on Feb. 9 and 10, 2017. More than 60 people from CDFW, the California Department of Water Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and other agencies worked night and day to successfully transfer more than 5 million Chinook salmon to the Thermalito Annex hatchery facility nine miles away. Fisheries and engineering staff also constructed an emergency filtration system for the remaining salmon and steelhead at the Oroville facility, saving an estimated 1.5 million fall Chinook salmon fry that were too small to move and 1.6 million steelhead eggs which lead to a returning year class of 1,874 steelhead in 2018-19.

On March 20, 2017, the first salmon to be released after the evacuation were 1 million state and federally listed threatened spring-run Chinook salmon. They were released successfully into the Feather River. In all, a total of 2 million spring-run Chinook and 5 million fall-run Chinook were released.

Their work did not go unnoticed. Team members received a letter of appreciation from then-Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and were later presented with the CDFW Director’s “Team Award” for their ingenuity and dedicated work to save the salmon and steelhead eggs.

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Media Contacts:
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169
Jay Rowan, CDFW North Coast Region, (916) 358-2883