Good for the fishes? Not these ones. As KPIX 5 reports, our endangered salmon population in the Sacramento River, already troubled by years of drought, is completely confused by the rain. Fish near Sacramento keep swimming up a ditch to a rice farm instead of migrating to their spawning ground.
Fortunately, the Chinook salmon are being rescued by the hundreds thanks to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Scientists are transporting salmon a dozen at a time by car back to the Sacramento River from the small irrigation canal northwest of Sacramento where they've wound up. Why there? The irrigation water, on rainy days like these, flows like the river. But, caught up in the ditch, the Chinook salmon can only survive for a few days.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California rivers and streams are home to the southern-most west coast Chinook salmon runs. These “anadromous” or migratory fish head upstream as adults to spawn in freshwater... when they don't take wrong turns, that is. As juveniles the salmon move downstream to the ocean, where they mature.
The salmon in question are technically Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, as salmon are classified and have evolved in part based on their migratory patterns. Adult winter-run salmon pass under the Golden Gate Bridge from November through May, heading into the Sacramento River from December through early August. Then they spawn in the upper Sacramento River beginning in mid-April.
Starting in 1970 this Chinook population experienced a serious decline, descending to a low of approximately 200 in the early 90's. As a result, the group was classified as endangered under the state Endangered Species Act in 1989 and under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1994.
The rescue program, which is to be applauded, does however appear to be a workaround. This ditch has apparently been a problem for over ten years. One idea is to connect the ditch back to the river, a two-mile journey. The Sacramento Bee has described previous efforts to preserve the salmon, including trucking juvenile fish up and down the river during the drought.