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Giant Salmon Fuels Hopes for California Fishery
11/10/2008
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Discovery of a huge King salmon bodes well for the future of California’s wild salmon
by Craig Weatherby


Last week, California Fish & Game biologists spied a giant King salmon on the banks of a creek that feeds the Sacramento River.

Weighing 85 pounds and measuring more than 4 feet long, it was the biggest salmon caught in California for almost 30 years (It's shown in the picture accompanying this article).

Last week's giant catch is more good news for the future of California’s wild salmon, which nearly disappeared last spring. (See “California Salmon Crisis Closes West Coast Fishery” and “Salmon Crisis Raises Cost and Supply Concerns.”)

The salmon fisheries off California and Oregon are very small compared with Alaska, which provides 95 percent of wild salmon – but they support many fishing families, and feed many folks on the West Coast.

The find is good news for two reasons:
  1. The salmon appears to have spawned successfully, which means that its rare genetics will be passed down to its progeny.
  2. Its unusual size affirms indications that 2008 has been the richest year of marine food production in more than 10 years.
That scarcity pummeled the salmon population from California to Oregon, but left wild Alaskan salmon unaffected, because they feed in areas far to the north.

Some blamed global warming, or low water in the Sacramento River basin, but most scientists say the crash was due to a scarcity of food in the ocean, caused by a shift in winds.

But this past spring, strong winds out of the northwest returned for the first time in three years.

This ocean bounty follows two summers of little upwelling in the ocean, resulting in meager rations for fish, including wild salmon. (Upwelling occurs when cold, nutrient-rich water rises to the surface, and nourishes the ocean food chain by bringing plankton and krill closer to the surface.)

This abundance will feed the more than 20 million salmon hatchery smolts released to the ocean, via a roundabout route trip that got the fish to get past various pitfalls, including pollution in the river near Sacramento.

The high numbers of marine birds, blue whales, humpback whales, porpoise and other marine species that have spent the summer and fall off the Bay Area coast indicates that the waters around the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary are once again rich in fish food.

We'll keep our fingers crossed for the fisher folk on the West Coast!


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