Friday, October 30, 2015

Another salmon disaster in the Klamath River Basin

There is another salmon disaster taking place right now in the Klamath River Basin but, like much that is newsworthy concerning the plight of salmon in this river basin, it is not being reported. 

By late October most of the fall run of Chinook salmon should have already spawned in tributaries that flow into the Scott River Valley. Those streams, including Shakleford, Kidder, Etna, French, Sugar and the South Fork Scott rise in the Trinity, Russian Peak and Marble Mountain Wilderness areas. As a result they have cold water and clean gravel perfect for salmon spawning. 

But at 6.5 cfs (cubic feet per second) flows in the Scott River are so low that a reportedly large run of Chinook salmon is stuck in the lower reaches of the River and can not reach the majority of spawning grounds which are located about 20 river miles upriver from the Scott's confluence with the Klamath River. 

 Salmon mass near the river's mouth waiting for enough water to make their spawning run

Unless sustained heavy rains come soon, most Chinook salmon production from the Scott River Basin will be lost this year and Coho spawning will be curtailed, continuing a trend toward extirpation of Scott River Salmon from the basin. The lack of access to spawning grounds in and above the Scott River Valley is not particular to this drought year but rather occurs with increasing regularity (see, for example, the 2012 KlamBlog at this link). Sometimes the rains and flows come in time for the Chinook and sometimes not. Because their spawning run occurs in November and December, Coho spawning is less often affected.

Losses of wild salmon production like those that are likely this year in Scott River, along with an epidemic of salmon diseases, are decimating the Klamath's wild salmon populations. As a result native, ocean commercial and sport fishermen and related economies are more and more dependent on salmon raised in hatcheries below Iron Gate and Trinity Dams. Dwindling wild salmon production  ultimately threatens the entire salmon run because over-reliance on hatcheries destroys the genetic diversity which allows salmon to survive in changing landscapes. 

Politically motivated reporting: