SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Endangered native salmon suffered a second straight disastrous year in California’s drought, with all but 3 percent of the latest generation dying in too-shallow, too-hot rivers, federal officials said Monday.
Survival rates for California’s endangered native fish regularly are a flashpoint in the disputes among fishermen, farmers and others about how federal and state authorities divvy up the state’s water supplies.
Just 318,000 juvenile winter-run salmon survived last year, or 3 percent of nearly 10 million eggs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries agency said Monday. That compares to just 5 percent survival the previous year — and 41 percent in 2011, just before California’s drought set in.
Salmon need cold water, but dams have blocked their historic retreats to the chilly upper reaches of Northern California’s Sacramento River tributaries. Federal officials in the drought have tried to finesse releases from California’s largest reservoir, Shasta, to keep the river water just deep enough and cool enough. Especially given scanty snow last year, water temperatures repeatedly went over the maximum for the young fish.
“I think everyone tried to make it work and despite everybody’s best efforts it still was too warm,” said Maria Rea, a deputy regional administrator with NOAA fisheries.
However, a fishing industry official maintained the fish would have done better if water managers had released less water in the spring for farmers and other users.
“Fishermen are asking what it will take to get the fish and wildlife agencies to protect our endangered species during times of drought,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
Farm groups — and state lawmakers speaking on their behalf — this month have stepped up public complaints that farms are being short-changed on water, to benefit wildlife.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to release hundreds of thousands of hatchery-raised winter-run salmon this month to try to offset the higher losses in the wild, spokesman Steve Martarano said.