Coho Salmon Coming Back to Russian River
Field biologists from the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) are reporting the largest number of coho returning to spawn in Sonoma County tributaries of the Russian River in more than a decade.
Scientists working on the recovery of endangered coho salmon
in northern California appreciate success even if it comes in small
doses. Field biologists from the California Department of Fish and Game
(DFG) are reporting the largest number of coho returning to spawn in
Sonoma County tributaries of the Russian River in more than a decade.
Most of these fish were released as fingerlings into the river
system, as part of a captive broodstock program at Don Clausen Warm
Springs Hatchery on Lake Sonoma. The broodstock program began 10 years
ago, when wild coho salmon were rapidly vanishing from the region.
Prior to the launch of the recovery program in 2001, the number of
returning adult coho salmon averaged less than four per year. These low
numbers were the catalyst for the Russian River Coho Salmon Captive
Broodstock Program, a recovery effort in which offspring from
hatchery-reared adults are released into the river system.
This year, biologists estimate that more than 190 adult coho may have
returned to the Russian River system, beginning with early storms in
October and peaking in December. Promisingly, a few coho are being
sighted in creeks that are not stocked, utilizing habitat beyond those
tributaries in which coho are released.
“We are hopeful that coho salmon released through this program will
continue to return to the Russian River system in increasing numbers and
begin to establish self-sustaining populations,” says Manfred Kittel,
Coho Salmon Recovery Coordinator for DFG’s Bay Delta Region. “The
program is a cornerstone of coho salmon recovery efforts in central
California, but the number of fish observed this year must be seen in
perspective. A healthy coho population should number in the tens of
thousands in California.”
Coho salmon abundance has declined dramatically statewide in the past
few years. Biologists believe that additional captive breeding efforts
and other focused recovery measures will likely have to be instituted to
prevent widespread extinction of coho salmon in central California.
Coho salmon in central California are listed as an endangered species
under both the State and Federal Endangered Species Acts. It is against
the law to catch them anywhere in the state.
The Russian River Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock Program is a broad
coalition of government agencies, scientists and private landowners
dedicated to bringing back productive salmon runs. Its members include
DFG, which manages the hatchery component at the Don Clausen Warm
Springs Hatchery, University of California Sea Grant Extension, National
Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Sonoma County