Thursday June 5, 2014

Chico News and Review

June 5, 2014

by Howard Hardee

After languishing in the planning stage for going on a decade, a project to rehabilitate a fish ladder on Big Chico Creek in Upper Bidwell Park was recently abandoned by the city of Chico. Since its initial proposal, there has been debate—should millions of dollars be invested in a ladder that would benefit a relatively small salmon run? Ultimately, that decision was no.

After all, there hasn’t been an official report of spring-run chinook salmon in Big Chico Creek since 2011, the last year the North State experienced above-average precipitation. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife counted 124 chinook salmon in the creek that year; none have been recorded since. Until now.

“Big Chico Creek is one of those tributaries where returns are intermittent,” said Michael Hellmair, a fisheries biologist at local environmental consulting company FISHBIO. “Some years, they number in the hundreds. Other years, you don’t see any.”

Given the ongoing drought conditions that appear to be persisting into summer, Hellmair said, he and his colleagues did not anticipate seeing salmon in the creek this year. But during FISHBIO’s Bidwell Park 5K Salmon Run and World Fish Migration Day celebration last Saturday, a race participant told an employee he had seen “some pretty big fish in Upper Park,” said Gabriel Kopp, the company’s director of operations.

Acting on the tip, FISHBIO biologists ventured to Salmon Hole on Wednesday, May 28, but visibility became poor as afternoon shadows darkened the water and the team failed to spot any fish. The biologists returned the next morning and were rewarded—there, milling about in the placid water, were about a dozen spring-run chinook salmon.

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