Courthouse News Service –
A staggering number of Chinook salmon are returning to a California river that hasn’t sustained salmon for decades due to agricultural and urban demands, giving biologists hope that threatened fish are finally spawning in their native grounds without human help.
Officials working on a restoration program announced Tuesday that they have counted a record number of spring-run Chinook salmon fish nests (redds) so far this fall on a stretch of the San Joaquin River near Fresno. Program staff has discovered over 160 redds with several weeks to go, toppling the total of 40 recorded in 2018.
Not only have the number of redds increased, biologists say many of them appear to have been fashioned by fish that weren’t hatchery raised or part of the billion-dollar program – meaning salmon were able to swim from the Pacific Ocean and through dams on their own.
“The volume of returns is a complete surprise,” said Pat Ferguson in a statement, a program fish biologist with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Biologists say the quadrupled number of redds is exciting considering they have only released 37 adult female salmon this year to breed in the river below Friant Dam. There are other signs that natural or “volitionally passed” salmon have returned to the river: Biologists have found untagged spring-run carcasses in recent weeks.