The Record Searchlight
By Damon Arthur
August 10, 2012
The number of Chinook salmon swimming up the Klamath River this year is expected to be the largest in decades, with estimates ranging from 352,000 to 380,000 fish returning this fall.
While the huge numbers of fish returning to the Klamath basin this year is generating excitement, it also has fish biologists worried about a repeat of September 2002, when 34,000 fish died in the Klamath River.
“It is the irony of the situation, certainly,” said Wade Sinnen, a senior environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Game.
With thousands of fish coming out of the Pacific Ocean and crowding up the river the chances of spreading disease also increase, fish biologists say. To reduce the likelihood of spreading a disease known as “ich,” officials plan to increase the amount of water flowing out of Trinity and Lewiston lakes.
“If you provide a lot of flow, it basically flushes the parasites out,” said Robin Schrock, executive director of the Trinity River Restoration Program.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dams, plans to start ramping up flows into the river on Monday, Schrock said. The water from the dams generally takes two days to flow downriver until it reaches the Klamath, she said.
Using water from the lakes, officials want to regulate the flow in the river so that it remains around 3,200 cubic-feet per second from Aug. 15 to Sept. 21.
In September 2002, there were about 1,900 cfs flowing through the lower Klamath, Sinnen said. This year’s salmon run is predicted to be 2.4 times what it was in 2002, so they are increasing the amount of water in the river to prevent an ich outbreak.
Following the 2002 fish die-off, officials
assembled the Klamath Fish Health Assessment Team, comprised of 16 agencies that monitor and share information about conditions on the river.
The team has established four escalating readiness levels — green, yellow, orange and red — corresponding with the health of the river and the fish.
The fish-readiness level is at yellow, which means there is a “need for heightened awareness,” data sharing among team members becomes more important and the “fish mortality response plan should be dusted off and folks ready to respond with personnel and resources if the situation escalates,” according to the KFHAT website.
Sinnen said there won’t be more water released from reservoirs on the Klamath River upstream of the mouth of the Trinity River. There isn’t as much Klamath River water available upstream of the Trinity, he said. The fishing in the ocean has been good this year, and the salmon are just starting to show up in the Klamath River, Sinnen said.
Fall run salmon season on the Klamath begins Wednesday. Because of the higher number of fish predicted to return, the DFG has doubled the limit on salmon to four this year.
The maximum number of fish an angler can have in possession also was doubled to eight.