twitter icon facebook icon youtube icon instagram icon

Stories from the valley

Four ways fish are getting a fighting chance

Contributed by Jennifer Harrison

Fish probably aren’t your top drought worry.  But for some, they are.

The Sacramento Valley is home to the 445-mile Sacramento River (the largest river in the state) and the only place in the world with four distinct fresh water salmon runs.  Translation:  fish, especially salmon, depend on this place for survival.  Water temperatures, flows and habitat conditions are all vital to the livelihood of our finned friends.  A drought, especially a historic one, can greatly impact all of these elements and thus impact fish.

Over the past nine months I’ve traveled along the Sacramento River, talking to experts-from fisheries scientists to water districts who are working together to preserve the bounty of our beautiful river.  It turns out there have been dozens of voluntary projects to help these fish in the last 20 years. Here are four ways they’re giving fish a fighting chance:

1.   Lighting less – The Sundial Bridge may be the crown jewel of Redding but at night it’s pretty bright!  This impacts fish, especially juvenile salmon that need to migrate to the ocean under the cover of darkness to avoid predators. The solution?   Switching to LED lights-which can be dimmed and altered in terms of color and wavelength to create the right balance of light to benefit salmon.  Fisheries Scientist Dave Vogel explains more in this video.

2.  Fish screens/barriers – Fish migrate hundreds of miles and can sometimes get turned around or accidentally go the wrong way.  They can also get accidentally pulled into the water intake systems found along the river.  Fish screens or barriers, which allow for water flow yet have screens that protect many different fish species from being sucked into the system, or in the case of salmon, encourage fish to take the correct route.  Projects like these have been implemented along the Sacramento River for decades.   New fish screens and barriers are being built in the Woodland and Knights Landing areas.

Reclamation District 108
Photo Credit: Reclamation District 108

3.  Saving spawning grounds – Once a perfect spawning area-a side channel in Redding had seen better days. Gravel had clogged the area and made it useless for salmon.  The Painters Riffle Project restored this area to its former glory. Side channels are rare and also perfect for spawning, making this project essential in supporting salmon.

4.  Fishing bans – The California Department of Fish and Wildlife implemented a fishing ban along a 5 ½ mile stretch of the Sacramento River from April until the end of July.  The goal was to protect the few remaining winter run salmon that are spawning.  This stretch of the river is known for trout fishing but it’s also where 98% of the winter run salmon spawn.  The goal was to limit incidental hooking death of salmon.   This is an example of a simple action that has a big impact on fish.