Thursday December 19, 2013

The Modesto Bee-

by John Holland

LA GRANGE — With a flash of silver and pink, a male salmon signaled its arrival in a stretch of the Tuolumne River near La Grange.

It sought to fertilize eggs laid in the shallow stream bed gravel by a female that also had returned from a few years in the Pacific Ocean.

Chinook salmon spawning has been going on since September on San Joaquin Valley rivers. It’s a stirring sight for people who love nature, but important as well to farmers and other water users who could face cutbacks if the fish numbers stay low.

This year, at least, they are not doing too badly. Many of the spawning fish were born on the rivers in 2010 and 2011, when the water ran high, and they enjoyed healthy conditions at sea. They return to streams shrunken by drought, but well-timed reservoir releases have provided some of the flows they need.

Fishery consultant Doug Demko said the Stanislaus number could reflect a lower number of hatchery salmon entering the river this year, but the overall trend is positive.

McManus said a crucial step is improving “rearing habitat” in the rivers, where young salmon develop before their ocean journey. Some water agencies have done this by restoring natural floodplains, which are covered by water in spring and shaded by trees.

The Oakdale Irrigation District took part in such a project last year at a spot on the Stanislaus River called Honolulu Bar. It involved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Demko’s company, Fishbio, which has an Oakdale office.

“Because of habitat restoration projects such as Honolulu Bar and others, and favorable conditions for spawning fish this fall, I expect that we will see a significant number of juvenile salmon migrating out of the upper river in 2014,” Demko said by email from the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, where he also consults.

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