Salmon memorial

Dan Bacher is managing editor of Elk Grove’s The Fish Sniffer magazine and board member of United Anglers of California
The American River is a treasure that winds its way through the heart of the Sacramento metropolitan area. It plays host to large annual migrations of king salmon, steelhead, shad and striped bass every year, making it one of the most popular recreational fisheries in the country.

Unfortunately, biologists from the California Department of Fish and Game are expecting a massive fish kill of fall-run chinook salmon on the American River this year because of lethally warm water conditions. There is little cold water left in Folsom Reservoir because the Bureau of Reclamation continues to follow a management plan for Folsom that favors agribusiness and other water users over fish.

In the past three years, a total of 181,709 adult salmon died before spawning, surpassing even the Klamath River fish kill of 2002, where as many as 68,000 salmon perished. The American’s fish died because of lethally warm water conditions.

Thirty-seven percent of the run of 2003—58,651 out of 158,516 returning adult chinooks—died before spawning, according to Mike Healey, Department of Fish and Game associate fishery biologist. The vast majority of these fish were natural spawners. In the fall of 2001, 87,626 fish (67 percent of the run) died before spawning.

The annual fish kills are expected to continue until adequate water flow and temperature standards are adopted on the American. The Save the American River Association (SARA), United Anglers, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the Sacramento Valley Water Forum and other groups are supporting the adoption of water standards to protect fisheries and restore the river.

The water forum produced a draft document in January 2004 that it would like the State Water Resources Control Board to consider in 2005. The problem is that the bureau wants a permanent dedication of “b2 flows”—water dedicated to fish and wildlife under federal water reform legislation—if it is to support the standards. Conservation groups contend that the use of this water is supposed to be determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annually, based on changing needs and conditions.

The time for adoption of flow and temperature standards is long overdue. As Allen Wade, SARA president, said, “We don’t want to turn the annual Salmon Festival into a memorial every year.” For more information, contact SARA at (916) 387-1763.