Smith River, California© Ken Morrish
Where We Work

California

Where We Work

California

Building back Golden State salmon

There is little question that California salmon and steelhead are in trouble. A recent study concluded that if fish population trends continue, 25 of the 32 distinct salmon, steelhead, and trout groups native to the Golden State may be extinct within the next century. But there is hope for California salmon and steelhead in select watersheds throughout the state, which still boast healthy wild salmon populations.

A statewide stronghold strategy

Wild Salmon Center worked with public and partners to identify the state’s best wild salmon rivers — salmon strongholds. The state of California has since formally recognized strongholds throughout the state, including the Smith; Salmon/Mid Klamath; Mattole; South Fork Eel; Mill, Deer, and Butte Creeks (in the middle Sacramento); Big Sur; and Santa Clara river systems. Together, these watersheds represent less than five percent of the state’s land area, but contain roughly 70 percent of its remaining salmon and steelhead diversity.

WSC is working with our partners, including CalTrout, for increased resources and proactive policy for these strongholds, which are critical to conserve and restore the state’s best salmon runs.

Restoring Spring Chinook to the Klamath

People in the Pacific Northwest love spring Chinook. All communities of fishers prize them for their fatty flavor. Tribal communities celebrate them with First Salmon rituals—marking the annual renewal of life-giving salmon runs. And because spring Chinook spawn and die in headwater streams, these fish deliver important nutrients high up in river systems.

Over the last several years, Wild Salmon Center has been closely involved with research that shows how spring Chinook are genetically unique from their fall run cousins.

This has major implications for the Klamath River, where greater Chinook salmon diversity has been severely eroded by habitat destruction, disease, and drought. Various Klamath runs have dwindled to a few hundred fish.

How should spring Chinook be restored in the Klamath as four major dams are removed starting in 2021?  We need to look at novel approaches, because genetically distinct spring Chinook can’t simply re-emerge from fall populations.

WSC Science Director Matt Sloat is working with a newly formed team of tribal, agency, and academic scientists to develop strategies to help Chinook recolonize the upper Klamath, which would benefit the entire region.

© Tom and Pat Leeson
25 of 32 California native salmon and trout population groups may go extinct in 100 years if we don't act now
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