Tag Archives: trout

Drought Prompts Fish Evacuation at American River and Nimbus Hatcheries

American River Hatchery tanks
American River Hatchery tanks

With a fourth year of extreme drought conditions reducing the cold water supply available, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is moving fish out of the American River and Nimbus hatcheries for the second year in a row.

Bureau of Reclamation models suggest water temperatures at the hatcheries could be at lethal levels for cold water fish by August. CDFW has already begun to stock American River Hatchery rainbow and brown trout into state waters earlier than normal. These fish range from small fingerlings to the larger catchable size. The accelerated planting schedule will continue through mid-July when all the fish in the raceways are expected to be evacuated. This includes all the fingerling size rainbow trout that would normally be held in the hatchery to grow to catchable size for next year.

A new, state-of-the-art building at American River Hatchery, completed in early June using emergency drought funds, will enable CDFW to raise Lahontan cutthroat trout through the summer for planting into eastern sierra lakes and streams. The new building will also enable CDFW to hold a small group of rainbow trout fingerlings that are scheduled to be stocked in west side sierra put-and-grow fisheries by airplane in July. The new hatchery building utilizes water filters, ultraviolet sterilization techniques and large water chillers to keep water quality and temperatures at ideal levels for trout rearing. However, the new technology is limited to the hatchery building and not the raceways, which will limit capacity to include only the Lahontan cutthroat trout once the fish start to grow to larger sizes.

Nimbus Hatchery has already begun relocating some 330,000 steelhead to the Feather River Hatchery Annex to be held through the summer. When the water temperature at the Nimbus Hatchery returns to suitable levels in the fall, the steelhead will be brought back to Nimbus to finish growing and imprinting then will be released into the lower American River. The Feather River Hatchery Annex is supplied by a series of groundwater wells that maintain cool water temperatures throughout the year.

The fall run Chinook salmon from Nimbus Hatchery have all been released into state waterways. If necessary, the chilled American River Hatchery building will be used this fall to incubate and hatch Chinook salmon from Nimbus Hatchery.

“Unfortunately, the situation is similar to last year,” said Jay Rowan, Acting Senior Hatchery Supervisor for CDFW’s North Central Region. “We have begun to implement contingency plans to avoid major fish losses in the two hatcheries. We want to do the best job we can to provide California anglers with good fishing experiences and communicate when there will be deviations from normal practices. With that in mind, we want to let anglers in the area know that a lot more fish than normal will be going out into area waters served by American River Hatchery.”

Rowan said that the number of fish planted at various waterbodies will increase as the planting timeframe decreases, so the fishing should be very good through the summer at foothill and mountain elevation put-and-take waters. Early fish plants now mean there won’t be as many fish available to plant in the lower elevation fall and winter fisheries, so the fishing may drop off later in the season if the fish don’t hold over well.

American River Hatchery operations focus on rearing rainbow and Lahontan cutthroat trout and kokanee salmon for recreational angling, predominantly in waters within the North Central Region. Nimbus Hatchery takes salmon and steelhead eggs from the American River and rears them to fish for six months to a year, until they are ready to be put back in the system.

To the south, San Joaquin Hatchery near Fresno expects to experience high water temperatures this summer. Transferring and stocking fish in advance of high water temperatures is planned. CDFW hopes to maintain some trout at low densities at the hatchery for the winter stocking season.

Annually, CDFW works with the Bureau of Reclamation to ensure its operations provide suitable conditions for fish at hatcheries and in the river. This year, conditions are forecasted to be dire with little flexibility in operations. Similar to last year, low reservoir storage and minimal snow pack will result high water temperatures over summer and very low river flows by fall.

Fall and winter rains, if received in sufficient amounts, will cool water temperatures enough to allow both hatcheries to come back online and resume operations.

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Media Contacts:
Jay Rowan, CDFW North Central Region, (916) 358-2883

Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

Crystal Lake Hatchery to Supply Trout for Waters Normally Stocked by Quarantined Hatcheries

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Crystal Lake Hatchery, operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), is currently stocking thousands of rainbow trout weekly in Hat Creek and surrounding waters in Lassen, Modoc, Shasta, Siskiyou and Trinity counties. Because the recent discovery of whirling disease at Darrah Springs and Mt. Shasta hatcheries triggered a quarantine of fish at those facilities and raised concern about reduced fishing opportunities, more than 1.5 million healthy rainbow trout from Crystal Lake Hatchery will be allocated to these waters to ensure excellent fishing opportunities at a number of northern California locations.

“Because of the quarantine of nearly 3 million trout at two of our hatcheries, we had to re-evaluate and realign our stocking allotments and schedules,” said Linda Radford, CDFW Regional Hatchery Supervisor. “By sharing trout allocations from Crystal Lake and Mad River hatcheries, we can continue to stock all the waters we would normally stock while we are working to eradicate the disease and get back on schedule at Darrah Springs and Mt. Shasta. This is a very good ‘Plan B’ for anglers who are expecting to fish this summer.”

Statewide, CDFW will stock more than 7 million trout in more than 700 waters in 2015. June and July are two of the busiest angling months of the year in northern and central California. This is when many of California’s nearly 2 million fishing license buyers break out their rods and go fishing. Fishing and stocked trout are integral to many family vacations in northern California.

CDFW hatchery workers stock many of northern California’s waters – including the very popular Hat Creek – by hand. Staff often meet anglers as they are working, and serve as the face of the department to fishermen, campers, local business people and tourists.

CDFW Fish and Wildlife Technician Brett Adams works at Crystal Lake Hatchery and drives a small hatchery truck from stream to stream, stocking trout throughout the region. At each stop along the Hat Creek route, he dips a net into the truck’s fish holding tank, scoops up 30 to 50 trout and hand-carries them to the stream to release. Many of the releases are done near campgrounds and at well-known fishing holes and usually draw crowds.

“Anglers really appreciate us stocking trout and providing them the opportunity to catch one for the grill,” Adams said. “At each stop, the people I meet have lots of questions. Recently whirling disease came up for the first time … people are concerned it might affect the hatcheries and waters they love.”

To Adams, realigning some of the stocking is a common sense approach so anglers are not left out due to the whirling disease quarantine. While it is not a perfect solution, it is a good temporary fix to provide anglers fishing opportunity that would otherwise be lost this summer and fall.

Meanwhile, extensive testing is underway at both whirling disease-affected hatcheries to find out how many of the nearly 3 million trout on site are affected and if and when any can be stocked. Whirling disease does not affect humans and the trout are safe to eat.

Crystal Lake Hatchery is located near the town of Burney in eastern Shasta County. The hatchery was completed in 1955 and modernized in 1976. Today it has seven raceways capable of rearing 1.5 million fish annually. Crystal Lake Hatchery stocks approximately 60 waters in Lassen, Modoc, Shasta, Siskiyou and Trinity counties. It raises a mix of the following fish:

  • Eagle Lake trout. Known for its resistance to highly alkaline waters, the Eagle Lake trout is a native to nearby Eagle Lake and its Pine Creek tributary. Due to diminishing flows into Pine Creek, a program was started in the 1950s to preserve the species. Once found only in its native waters, the Eagle Lake trout can now be found in many waters throughout the state.
  • Brown trout. Also known as German brown trout, this fish is native to Eastern Europe. Brown trout have been stocked in many state waters for recreational fishing. These days, triploid (sterile) brown trout continue to provide anglers a quality fishing experience.
  • Eastern brook trout. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a member of the char family. Originating from the eastern United States, brook trout were imported to California via railroad in the late 1800s. As with brown trout, brook trout provided for anglers are now triploid.

 

 

Hot Creek Hatchery Tests Positive for Whirling Disease, Trout Stocking to Continue in Area Waters

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently learned Hot Creek Hatchery near Mammoth Lakes has tested positive for the parasite that causes whirling disease. Whirling disease was detected in wild trout populations in Inyo and Mono Counties more than 30 years ago. Therefore, continued fish stocking in these and other waters already known to have the whirling disease parasite should have little or no effect on those trout populations. Hot Creek, Lake Crowley and the Owens River provide blue ribbon trout fishing despite the presence of whirling disease in these waters.

“We will continue to operate Hot Creek Hatchery with no negative effects on wild fish in Inyo and Mono counties, where Hot Creek Hatchery normally stocks its fish,” said CDFW Fisheries Branch Chief Stafford Lehr.

Last week, two northern California hatcheries, Darrah Springs and Mt. Shasta, also tested positive for this parasite. Of the 22 hatcheries operated by CDFW throughout the state, only these three have tested positive. The disease was discovered as a result of routine annual checks for fish diseases which are conducted at all CDFW hatcheries.

Whirling disease is caused by Myxobolus cerebralis, a protozoan parasite that destroys cartilage in the vertebral column of trout and salmon. It is fatal or disfiguring to infected trout and salmon but does not affect humans. Fish infected with whirling disease are safe for human consumption.

At this time it is not known how the parasite entered Hot Creek Hatchery waters. The possibility the parasite was transferred to the hatchery from local nearby waters known to have whirling disease is likely, due to current drought conditions that cause wildlife to move to available waters sources. Some species of fish-eating birds can transmit the parasite.

For more information on whirling disease, please visit http://whirlingdisease.montana.edu.

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Media Contacts:
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169
Dr. William Cox, CDFW Hatchery Program Manager, (916) 358-2827

Whirling Disease Detection Triggers Quarantine at Two California Trout Hatcheries

The detection of a disease-causing parasite has led the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to quarantine infected trout at two northern California hatcheries.

During routine hatchery and fish health checks, CDFW fisheries pathologists found that captive-raised fish at the Darrah Springs Trout Hatchery (located in the Battle Creek watershed east of Redding) tested positive for whirling disease. Prior to the discovery, trout were transferred from an infected raceway at Darrah Springs to Mt. Shasta Hatchery. While fish transferred to  Mt. Shasta Hatchery from Darrah Springs Hatchery tested positive for the parasite, it is yet unknown if biological and environmental conditions allowed it to complete its lifecycle at that location. Approximately three million rainbow and brown trout at both hatcheries are now under quarantine and will undergo testing.

Whirling disease is caused by Myxobolus cerebralis, a protozoan parasite that destroys cartilage in the vertebral column of trout and salmon. It can be fatal to infected trout and salmon but does not affect humans or other wildlife or fish. Trout and salmon that test positive for the disease are still safe for human consumption. Although the infected hatchery fish cannot be released into California’s waterways, they can and will be euthanized in a manner that allows for usage as food fish. CDFW is currently working with local food banks to arrange donation, and a previously scheduled children’s fishing event at the Mt. Shasta Hatchery this weekend will be held as planned.

The whirling disease parasite is naturally present in some streams and rivers in California. Hatchery outbreaks are unusual but not unheard of (there have been none in northern California for two decades). The disposal of infected hatchery-raised trout is a necessary precaution to prevent the spread of disease to non-infected state waters where the fish would normally be planted.

“This is a bitter pill to swallow,” said Stafford Lehr, CDFW Fisheries Branch Chief. “We have raised and nurtured these trout to provide fishing opportunity. It’s heartbreaking. We are committed to take whatever steps necessary to eradicate this disease and bring these hatcheries back online.”

The parasite is believed to have entered Darrah Springs Hatchery via the water source supplying a portion of that hatchery. Some species of fish-eating birds can transmit the parasite and river otters can carry it on their fur from one water to another. The possibility that the parasite was transferred to the hatchery from local nearby waters known to have whirling disease is likely, due to current drought conditions that cause wildlife to move to available water sources.

Until testing is complete the exact number of fish exposed to and infected with the disease is unknown. Once the infected fish are euthanized, the latest scientific techniques will be used to cleanse the impacted areas of the hatcheries, confirm the impacted water sources are whirling disease-free and bring the facilities back to production status as soon as possible.

CDFW pathologists routinely inspect each of the 13 state-run trout hatcheries which raise approximately 10 million trout for California anglers statewide, and nine salmon hatcheries that raise over 31 million young salmon and steelhead.

For more information on whirling disease, please visit http://whirlingdisease.montana.edu.

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Media Contacts:
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169

Dr. William Cox, CDFW Hatchery Program Manager, (916) 358-2827

Annual General Trout Opener Coming Soon

The general trout opener in many counties throughout California will commence on Saturday, April 25, one hour before sunrise.

Because of the popularity of this annual event with the angling public, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is making every effort to stock trout in all accessible waters approved for planting prior to the season opener. Lingering winter conditions and this year’s unprecedented drought could play a major role in determining how many rivers, creeks, lakes and reservoirs can be stocked before April 25.

Most lakes, rivers and streams have a limit of five trout per day and 10 in possession. However, regulations differ on season opening and closing dates, bag limits, minimum and maximum size limits, and gear restrictions.

Anglers are advised to check specific area regulations and opening dates in the 2015/16 California Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulation booklet at  www.wildlife.ca.gov/regulations, for regulations specific to each body of water.

In 2012, CDFW regional staff created the Eastern Sierra Back Country Fishing Guide to provide anglers with a quick, informative and accurate account of the distribution of fisheries in back country high elevation lakes. This guide does not address front country waters, defined as lakes and streams that are accessible by vehicle. Most of the lakes lie within U.S. Forest Service lands managed as wilderness and usually require back country permits for overnight use. Most back country fisheries are based on self-sustaining populations of trout and do not need regular trout stocking to maintain fish populations. The guide can be found at http://www.wildlife.ca.gov/regions/6.

Crowley Lake in the Eastern Sierra is expected to be one of the most popular opening day destinations for anglers from around the state. In past years, an estimated 10,000 anglers have turned out for the opener, and approximately 50,000 trout are caught during the first week of the season. Typically Crowley is planted with hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized trout, and because of excellent food sources in the 5,280-acre reservoir, these trout grow to catchable sizes and weigh at least three-quarters of a pound by the opener. About 10 percent of the trout caught at Crowley during opening weekend weigh over a pound and a half. These fish are from stocks planted in previous years or are wild fish produced in Crowley’s tributary waters.

Anglers are asked to be particularly vigilant when cleaning fish and fishing gear at Crowley Lake and in the upper and lower Owens River Drainage. The New Zealand Mudsnail was discovered several years ago in the Owens River Drainage, and CDFW would like to prevent the Mudsnail from spreading into other waters. To avoid spreading New Zealand Mudsnails and other aquatic invasive species to other waters, anglers are advised to dispose of their fish guts in bear-proof trash cans, rather than throw them back into the water. Wading gear should be properly cleaned before using in new waters.

All persons age 16 and older must possess a valid California fishing license to fish within state lines. Freshwater fishing licenses can be purchased online at www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/online-sales or at regional CDFW offices or other license agents. Anglers no longer have to display their license visibly above the waist but they must have it in their possession while fishing.

Media Contacts:
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-894

CDFW to Hold Public Meeting on Proposed Emergency Fishing Closure of Part of Sacramento River

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is holding a public meeting to solicit comments on a proposed closure of 5.5 miles of the Sacramento River above the Highway 44 Bridge in Redding to Keswick Dam. CDFW has determined this closure is necessary to protect endangered winter-run chinook salmon. The anticipated dates of closure are April 27-July 31.

“At the department, it pains us to propose this action for the state,” said Stafford Lehr, CDFW Fisheries Branch Chief. “But we are in unchartered territory here, and we believe this is the right thing to do if we want to help winter run and be able to fish for big rainbows in the long-run.”

The meeting will be held Tuesday, April 7, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Redding Public Library,1100 Parkview Ave. in Redding (96001).

CDFW is proposing a complete fishing closure in this critical holding and spawning area to ensure added protection for the federal and state endangered winter-run chinook, which face high risk of extinction. Given the gravity of the current situation, it is imperative that each and every adult fish be given maximum protection. Current regulations do not allow fishing for chinook salmon, but incidental catch by anglers targeting trout could occur.

An estimated 98 percent of the in-river spawning is occurring in the 5.5 mile stretch under consideration for closure. This reach is the principle spawning area in these extraordinary drought year conditions. This section represents only 10 percent of the waters currently open to fishing upstream of the Red Bluff Diversion Dam.

In 2014, approximately 95 percent of eggs and young winter-run chinook were lost due to elevated river temperatures. Given current drought conditions, it is likely the 2015-year eggs and young salmon will again be subject to extremely trying conditions.

CDFW is tasked by the Governor to work with the California Fish and Game Commission to determine whether fishing restrictions in certain areas are necessary and prudent as drought conditions persist. The proposed closure is also in accordance with the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.

Governor Brown has called on all Californians to reduce their water use by 25 percent. Visit  saveourwater.com to find out how everyone can do their part, and visit drought.ca.gov to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.

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Media Contacts:
Roger Bloom, CDFW Fisheries Branch, (916) 445-3777

Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (916) 323-1478 or (208) 220-1169

American River Trout Hatchery Reopens After Summer Evacuation

The American River Trout Hatchery operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reopened this week after warm water temperatures forced the closure of the facility in early summer.

Colder winter temperatures and recent rain are allowing hatchery staff to begin filling the raceways with cooler river water and start to produce rainbow trout for planting in northern California lakes this summer.

“The drought forced us to think quickly and make the best decisions for the health of the fish,” said Dr. Bill Cox, CDFW Fishery Program Manager. “Because of the rain and colder weather, we can start producing trout right away.”

In June, CDFW moved all rainbow trout out of the American River Hatchery to avoid losses of young fish due to rising water temperatures. Both Nimbus and American River hatcheries’ water supply comes from Lake Natoma, upstream of the hatcheries. Drought conditions resulted in reduced water supplies stored in Folsom Lake and warm summer temperatures increased the water temperature of the available water, exceeding tolerable temperatures for growing fish.

The trout being grown now will be available for planting in state waters beginning in January 2015.

For the fish stocking schedule, please visit https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FishPlants/.

For complete fishing regulations, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/Regulations.

Media Contacts:
Dr. Bill Cox, CDFW Fisheries Branch, (916) 358-2827
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

CDFW Asks Trout Anglers to be Mindful During Drought

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is asking trout anglers to be mindful about fishing in the state’s waters and the effects their catch can have on the populations. As the summer progresses, the effects of the current drought on California’s wildlife continue to mount. Aquatic wildlife are especially vulnerable as streamflows decrease and instream water temperatures increase, exposing cold water species such as trout to exceptionally hostile habitat conditions.

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Because of the lower water levels and accompanying higher water temperatures in many California streams, many trout populations are experiencing added stress, which can affect their growth and survival. Many of California’s wild trout anglers have adopted catch-and-release fishing as their preferred fishing practice. Careful handling of a trout after being caught with artificial lures or flies allows for the possibility of trout being caught additional times.

However, catch-and-release fishing during afternoon and early evening in streams and lakes that have elevated water temperatures may increase stress, hinder survival and increase hooking mortality for released trout.

“Please be mindful of the conditions when you are fishing,” said California’s Wild Trout Program Leader, Roger Bloom. “Afternoon and evening water temperatures may be too warm to ensure the trout being released will survive the added stress of hooking, fighting and sustained exposure to the warmer water that builds up during hot days in summer and fall.”

Some of the state’s finest trout streams have special angling regulations that encourage or require catch-and-release fishing. In waters that may experience elevated daytime water temperatures (greater than 70 degrees Fahrenheit) the best opportunity for anglers to fish would be during the early morning hours after the warm water has cooled overnight and before the heat of the day increases water temperatures.

These low water conditions and warmer water temperatures are happening across the state—from Central Valley rivers flowing below the large foothill reservoirs to mountain streams in Southern California and in both east and west slope Sierra Nevada streams.

“Enjoy California’s outstanding trout fishing and help us to keep wild trout thriving by using good judgment,” said CDFW Fisheries Branch Chief, Stafford Lehr. “Fish earlier and stop earlier in the day during these hot summer days ahead.”

Protective measures for catch-and-release fishing during the drought include:

  • Avoiding fishing during periods when water temperatures exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit (likely afternoon to late evening)
  • Playing hooked trout quickly and avoiding extensive handling of fish
  • Keeping fish fully submerged in water during the release
  • Utilizing a thermometer and checking water temperatures every 15 minutes when temperatures exceed 65 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Stopping angling when captured fish show signs of labored recovery or mortality
  • Utilizing barbless hooks to help facilitate a quick release

Although other states have used temperature triggers to close recreational fisheries, California does not currently have a legal mechanism in place to accomplish that. Historically, CDFW has requested voluntary actions by anglers to avoid catch-and-release fishing in waters like Eagle Lake and the East Walker River during periods of elevated water temperatures. At present there are local angling groups in Truckee encouraging anglers to participate in a volunteer effort to avoid fishing in the afternoon and evening.

As we move through these extreme conditions, CDFW is asking anglers to help protect our state’s native and wild trout resources. Anglers interested in researching local conditions prior to a trip should contact local tackle shops, check online fishing reports or contact a local CDFW regional office. Anglers should also consider using a hand-held or boat-mounted thermometer to assess water temperatures while fishing.

Media Contact:
Roger Bloom, CDFW Heritage and Wild Trout Program, (916) 464-6355
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

120128-F-8708H-0366

Annual General Trout Opener Coming Soon in the Eastern Sierra

The general trout opener in many counties throughout California will commence on April 26, one hour before sunrise.

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Because of the popularity of this annual event with the angling public, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is making every effort to stock trout in all accessible waters approved for planting prior to the season opener. Lingering winter conditions and this year’s unprecedented drought could play a major role in how many rivers, creeks, lakes and reservoirs can be stocked before April 26.

Most lakes, rivers and streams have a limit of five trout per day and 10 in possession. However, regulations differ on season opening and closing dates, bag limits, minimum and maximum size limits and gear restrictions.

Anglers are advised to check specific area regulations and opening dates in the 2014/15 California Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulation booklet, found online at www.dfg.ca.gov/regulations, for regulations specific to each body of water.

In 2012, CDFW regional staff created the Eastern Sierra Back Country Fishing Guide to provide anglers with a quick, informative and accurate account of the distribution of fisheries in back country high elevation lakes. This guide does not address front country waters, defined as lakes and streams that are accessible by vehicle. Most of the lakes lie within U.S. Forest Service lands managed as Wilderness and usually require back country permits for overnight use. Most back country fisheries are based on self-sustaining populations of trout and do not need regular trout stocking to maintain fish populations. The guide can be found at http://dfg.ca.gov/regions/6/

Crowley Lake in the Eastern Sierra is expected to be one of the most popular opening day destinations for anglers from around the state. In past years, an estimated 10,000 anglers have turned out for the opener, and approximately 50,000 trout are caught during the first week of the season. Typically Crowley is planted with hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized trout, and because of excellent food sources in the 5,280-acre reservoir, these trout grow to catchable sizes and weigh at least three-quarters of a pound by the opener. About 10 percent of the trout caught at Crowley during opening weekend weigh over a pound and a half. These fish are from stocks planted in previous years or are wild fish produced in Crowley’s tributary waters.

Anglers are asked to be particularly vigilant when cleaning fish and fishing gear at Crowley Lake and in the upper and lower Owens River Drainage. The New Zealand Mudsnail was discovered several years ago in the Owens River Drainage, and CDFW would like to prevent the snail from spreading into other waters. To avoid spreading New Zealand Mudsnails and other aquatic invasive species to other waters, anglers are advised dispose of their fish guts in bear-proof trash cans, rather than throw them back into the water. Wading gear should be properly cleaned before using in new waters.

All persons age 16 and older must possess a valid California fishing license to fish within state lines. Freshwater fishing licenses can be purchased online at www.dfg.ca.gov/onlinesales or at regional CDFW offices or other license agents. Anglers no longer have to display their license visibly above the waist but they must have it in their possession while fishing.

Media Contacts:            
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944
James Erdman, Environmental Scientist, (760) 873-6071

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Warm Springs Hatchery Begins Spawning Operation for Russian River Steelhead

Ninety-six Russian River steelhead were spawned Feb. 20 at Warm Springs Hatchery, marking a strong but late start for the hatchery’s annual steelhead spawning operation.

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The Russian River and its tributaries comprise one of the most significant steelhead populations in the Central Coast area of California. The Russian River watershed also provides important habitat for endangered Coho and Chinook salmon. Although steelhead normally begin entering the river with the first heavy rains in the fall and can be found throughout the river and its tributaries through April, this year little rain fell from November through the first week in February, creating extremely low river conditions and few opportunities for steelhead to move into and up the river system.

Low water conditions in January also allowed the naturally occurring sandbar to form at the mouth of the river, blocking the migration of steelhead.

“Once the first rains hit in February, the sandbar blocking the mouth of the river washed out, allowing the steelhead to move in from the ocean into the river system,” said Brett Wilson, Senior Hatchery Supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). “Based on what we are seeing right now, we should be able to meet our goal of taking enough eggs to rear a half million young steelhead for release into the Russian River.”

Emergency regulations that went into effect Feb. 19 closed most of the Russian River to fishing, adding extra protection for migrating steelhead and salmon.

March is an excellent time to visit the hatchery and view the steelhead moving through the concrete fish ladder into the restored stream habitat leading to the hatchery. A visitor viewing area also provides excellent photographic opportunity.

“The new restoration stream habitat just outside the hatchery intake gives visitors a chance to see steelhead up close and in native type of habitat,” Wilson said.

Warm Springs Hatchery is the end of a lengthy migration for the hatchery produced steelhead. From the Pacific Ocean, they enter the Russian River at Jenner and travel 40 miles upriver to Dry Creek near Healdsburg before following the stream 14 more miles west to the hatchery. Steelhead are also spawned at Coyote Valley Fish Facility on the East Fork of the Russian below Lake Mendocino.

The steelhead are generally held captive one week before the eggs are artificially taken. Spawning is open to the public and occurs throughout the entire season on most Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. The steelhead eggs spawned at the Hatchery and the Coyote Valley Fish Facility are incubated, hatched and reared at the hatchery for one year before they are released back into the Russian River to begin their migration to the sea.

Warm Springs Hatchery is located just below Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma, approximately 14 miles above the confluence of Dry Creek with the Russian River at an elevation of 322 feet. The hatchery began operation in 1980 and is designed to produce a maximum of 161,300 pounds of salmonid fish annually. Although the hatchery is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), it is operated by CDFW. CDFW also operates the Coyote Valley Fish Facility for trapping and spawning adult steelhead and imprinting steelhead destined for release in the Russian River. The Coyote Valley Fish Facility is located upstream on the east branch of the Russian River near the town of Ukiah.

Warm Springs Hatchery is a mitigation hatchery that produces steelhead to enhance the river’s natural steelhead population required due to the loss of natural spawning and rearing habitat associated with the construction of the Warm Springs and Coyote Valley dams. The mitigating agency is the USACE. The Warm Springs Hatchery is also home to the Coho Salmon Broodstock Program, which produces coho for release to 21 tributaries of the Russian River as part of a multi-agency recovery effort for this endangered species.

Media Contact:
Brett Wilson, Senior Hatchery Supervisor, (707) 433-6325
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (916) 323-1478

Steelhead swimming upstream to Warm Springs Hatchery
Steelhead swimming upstream to Warm Springs Hatchery