2021 has been a warm and dry year for California. In light of this climate, many sceptics have estimated a major loss in salmon populations throughout the Sacramento Valley. It was a season that was beginning to look very dark for our fisheries and spawning populations. How did the year end up and how populated were some of the runs we saw this year?
Winter Salmon Run
Due to warmer temperatures and lack of water, a complete die-off was expected by many. The young population was anticipated to suffer the largest impact. Chinook were not expected to return. If they did appear, they would be hatchery returns.
The winter-run saw nearly 10,000 Chinook return to the Sacramento River. The largest population in 15 years was welcomed into its waters. Fish and Wildlife estimated over 75% of these spawners to be natural and not from a hatchery. Spawning grounds still show healthy numbers of fry and juveniles. Ironically, the returning salmon are the second-generation of the 2015 spawn, which were also estimated to die-off completely due to heat and drought. Over half a million juveniles are estimated to have made their way downstream from their spawning grounds, signifying an above average and fantastic run.
Early information led to reports of massive die-offs and fish washed to the river’s edge. It was marked as an extreme climate crisis and many anticipated for a horrendous occasion in Butte Creek.
The run was the largest seen in many decades. Over 20,000 salmon were estimated to have made their way through the river. Salmon from the run remained for months, with most departing by mid November. Total numbers have not yet been estimated, though the season has been determined a great success.
As of now, we have seen an incredible late fall run of salmon. California Fish and Wildlife have been updating the fishery thoroughly throughout the months. They estimate over 30,000 adults returned to their grounds in Battle Creek. Though having a slow start, the presence of Chinook in the Sacramento River has increased greatly within the past few weeks, once again showing signs of a beneficial and unexpected run.