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Stories from the valley

The Science behind Sacramento River Salmon

Contributed by Jennifer Harrison

“The Sacramento River is a one of a kind river in the world!” said Dave Vogel, a senior scientist in fisheries management research.

He should know.  For forty years and within six different states, Vogel has studied fish, and considers the Sacramento Valley region and it’s nearly 450-mile river a very unique place for salmon.

“It supports every fresh water life phase of Chinook salmon, every calendar month of the year.”

Four different salmon runs occur in the river and that means there is always something happening in regards to the fish:  be it migration, holding in the river, spawning, egg incubation or juvenile rearing.  Vogel’s life work and passion involves finding the delicate balance between limited water supplies and fishery resources in California’s central valley.  One thing is for sure; when it comes to work, he’s on the water.

“I like being in the river, I do a lot of scuba diving, and I do underwater videography and use underwater sonar cameras.”

diver adjusting antenna on a boat

All in the name of fish research.

“I may be putting miniature transmitters on salmon to study migration and the characteristics of adult fish they as migrate up stream to spawning grounds or doing habitat studies, looking at the predator-pray relationships and trying to figure out how we can increase survival of salmon.”

Survival means making sure the fish go where they need to.  Sometimes that doesn’t happen, resulting in loss of salmon life.

“There are two routes where adult salmon may stray off the Sacramento River and enter into the Colusa basin drain.”

A fish barrier, a concept Vogel created, will be placed in the river in Knights Landing area to protect the up migrating adult salmon, the most important fish in the system, as they’ve been in the ocean and are returning to the Sacramento River to spawn.  The barrier will be a smooth and safe structure that the fish won’t be able to get through, and in frustration will turn around and go the correct way.

The drought, something Vogel can’t find a solution for, is another concern for fish scientists.

“The drought has created very challenging conditions for the salmon.  The low reservoir storage levels has created a conditions where we can have water that’s too warm for salmon to spawn and eggs to incubate.”

With the drought creating adverse conditions for fish, all the more reason to understand and appreciate the work of fishery scientists like Vogel and the importance of supporting salmon life cycles in the Sacramento Valley.