California drought killing winter-run Chinook salmon species

ByAlex Cheney KABC logo
Thursday, January 6, 2022
Drought, brutal summer heat killing salmon species
A new report shows that the drought in California is killing the winter-run Chinook salmon species found in the Sacramento River, and one scientist says this species will not be the last to take a hit.

Salmon is the second most consumed seafood in the U.S., and California is a major salmon contributor. But a new report shows the drought facing the state is killing a salmon species in the Sacramento River.

A recent report from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife shows that only 2.6 percent of the winter-run Chinook salmon juvenile population survived the brutally hot and dry summer.

"Well it's a hit to everybody. When you get to a drought like this, water is in really, really short supply," said UC Davis Fisheries Scientist Peter Moyle.

Moyle says that this could be just the beginning if nobody works on a solution. The winter-run Chinook salmon may be the first to take a hit but not the last.

"The other runs of salmon are going to follow suit. If we use the battle for the winter run, we're likely to run the battle for the other runs. So we've got to make the system work," Moyle said.

Last April, the state sucked the salmons out of the reservoirs and trucked them all the way to the ocean, instead of releasing them into rivers, in an effort to save them. With less snow melt feeding the rivers, the water was just too warm for young salmon.

"We're using all this water that's being produced by mountain ranges. We're trying to capture it and store it in the reservoirs, and we're taking it from the fish. So if we want some of those fish around, we've got to give some of that water back," explained Moyle.

The winter-run Chinook salmon has been on the endangered list since 1994. Hatcheries that raise fish in artificial conditions are helping to keep the other two main Chinook salmon runs in the area alive.