People photograph the salmon in the Feather River Fish Hatchery fish viewing windows Friday in Oroville. The number of fish so far this year is about a third of what’s normal. Bill Husa — Mercury-Register
By Risa Johnson, Chico Enterprise-Record
Fish make their way Friday past the Feather River Fish Hatchery fish viewing windows in Oroville. Bill Husa — Mercury-Register
Oroville >> Where are all the fish?
That’s what hatchery workers are wondering, left scratching their heads after seeing low levels for spring-run Chinook salmon — about a third of the average for this time period.
“These are the lowest numbers we’ve seen in the last few years, for sure,” said Anna Kastner, manager of the Feather River Fish Hatchery.
The salmon ladder opened last week and about 1,200 fish have come into the hatchery so far, including about 400 over the weekend, Kastner said. She hoped to take 250,000 eggs but got about 100,000.
As for the cause, Kastner isn’t sure. She thinks ocean conditions are probably to blame for the low numbers and is hoping the fish are just late. Many are held up at the Thermalito Afterbay outlet and should be on the way to the hatchery, she said.
She is advocating for higher releases in the low-flow section of the Feather River from the fish barrier dam to aid the salmon in their journey.
Last week, the hatchery manager said high releases during the Oroville Dam crisis should not have affected the fall-run salmon that arrive in August or September. There have been low levels of spring-run salmon this year at the hatchery, but also in areas of California not connected to the same water system, Kastner said.
When asked again on Monday whether the spillway emergency may have affected the migration of fall-run salmon, she said it is “hard to tell.”
“I don’t know what the ocean conditions were,” Kastner said. “Their life cycles are so complex. They spend most of their lives in the ocean — to me, it seems to be the ocean.”
About 90 percent of the fish that have come in so far were born at the hatchery, Kastner said. She knows that because of their tags. When read, they give away the salmon’s birthplace and birth year.
The hatchery is scheduled to produce nine million eggs this year. The hatchery manager said she won’t give up hope for the spring-run salmon until the end of the week and for the fall-run salmon, until the second week of October – but if there are still low numbers then, they’ll be out of luck.
*Author’s note: A previous version of this article confused spring-run and fall-run salmon. The hatchery has seen low numbers of spring-run salmon. While the spring-run salmon arrive earlier, both species spawn around the same time.
Reach reporter Risa Johnson at 896-7763.
Risa Johnson covers local politics in Butte County and the City of Oroville for the Chico Enterprise-Record and Oroville Mercury-Register newspapers. Since February 2017, she has written extensively about the Oroville Dam crisis. She is a proud alumna of Chico State University. Reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Risa on Twitter: @risamjohnson.