More than 18,000 salmon returned to the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery this fall, breaking the 2011 record for returning fish. California Department of Fish and Wildlife Facebook
More than 18,000 salmon returned to the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery this fall, breaking the 2011 record for returning fish. California Department of Fish and Wildlife Facebook

Local

Salmon numbers near record high at this California hatchery. Here’s why.

By Kalin Kipling

kkipling@sacbee.com

November 17, 2017 02:54 PM

UPDATED November 18, 2017 09:48 AM

One San Joaquin County fish hatchery is seeing near-record returns of Chinook salmon this season.

The Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery is expected to break the 2011 record of 18,000 salmon, according to a California Department of Fish and Wildlife Facebook post. The hatchery has already seen the return of 15,000 fish – with many more on the way.

The hatchery is also getting near-record returns of steelhead, Fish and Wildlife says, with 400 reported so far. The average returns per year at the hatchery for steelhead is 100 fish.

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“It’s going to be one of the top three or four years that we’ve seen since 1940,” Jose Setka, the manager of fisheries and wildlife for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, told SFGate. “We are getting more of our fish back where they belong.”

There are a few efforts that are behind the record runs, biologists and hatchery staff assert. The efforts include river restoration; moving smolts by barge to release areas in the ocean and bay; switching up the diet of young salmon to prepare them for saltwater life; and controlling river flows. The strong wet season also might have given the fish a boost.

The Feather River and Nimbus hatcheries also have positive outlooks on fall-run salmon.

Oroville’s Feather River Hatchery is seeing a rebound after a bad spring run, KCRA reports. Numbers for the fall run are within the historical range of 15,000 to 20,000.

Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Gold River is still early in its season, but it’s “seeing a pretty good number so far,” the hatchery’s Laura Drath told KCRA.

Drath pointed out that uncertainty has surrounded the fall run since the fish hatched amid the drought two to three years ago.

The salmon from hatcheries are spawned artificially and released into the river as juveniles about six months later, according to the Nimbus hatchery. Steelhead are released after a year. The make their way to the ocean after being trucked to release sites, and typically return to the area after as many as four years.