The Drought’s Next Victims

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1California’s drought spread across most of the West Coast this year. There have been reports of record high temperatures, water shortages and increased ravages from wildfires. The Drought’s next victims could be salmon.

The Drought’s Next Victims, In British Columbia, Could Be Salmon

British Columbia’s Fraser River is lower than at any previous point in the past 25 years. The water is also 4 degrees warmer than normal, which could be devastating on the sockeye run.

“I have heard that sockeye salmon are holding in the cooler Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island because the temperature of Stamp Falls and Sproat River are in excess of 22 degrees Celsius. Salmon may be waiting for the temperature to cool down, but they cannot wait indefinitely, otherwise their “gas tank” will become too low for the migration,” said UBC biologist Tony Farrell in a press release.

Washington’s High Water Temperatures

Wild sockeye salmon en route to spawning zone in Issaquah Creek, near the Issaquah Hatchery, in Washington by Ingrid Taylar vis Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
Wild sockeye salmon en route to spawning zone in Issaquah Creek, near the Issaquah Hatchery, in Washington by Ingrid Taylar vis Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

The Columbia River is experiencing the third highest third sockeye run since 1960 salmon – and nearly half of them have perished because of the unseasonably warm water.

Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) issued a press release stating that, as a result of the drought, “more than a dozen of the hatcheries under its control are experiencing low water levels or high water temperatures”:

“We’ve lost about 1.5 million juvenile fish this year due to drought conditions at our hatcheries,” said Ron Warren, WDFW salmon policy lead. “This is unlike anything we’ve seen for some time.”

“Facilities located on the Green River system, for example, have been hit hard, Warren noted. The Soos Creek hatchery near Auburn lost half (34,000 fish) of its summer steelhead population and 153,000 coho (18 percent of the population) in the last month from diseases brought on by warm water temperatures.”

Looking More Normal in Oregon?

White River Canyon near the Deschutes Confluence by River Drifters via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
White River Canyon near the Deschutes Confluence by River Drifters via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Three weeks ago, Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife curtailed fishing hours on most of the state’s rivers “to avoid additional stress on native fish already suffering from high water temperatures and low stream flows from this year’s drought.”

Chinook are a much hardier species, but “an estimated 109” fell victim to  “low river flows and warm temperatures” on the John Day River.

This situation changed yesterday, when it was announced that anglers can now fish after 2 p.m. from Macks Canyon to the mouth of the lower Deschutes River.

“We typically see water temperatures in the lower Deschutes begin to cool in August. Despite some very warm temperatures in late June and early July, the river is starting to look more normal as we head into August,” said Rod French, ODFW fish biologist.

Sacramento River Reaching Lethal Temperatures

With the Sacramento River reaching lethal temperatures, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance filed a formal complaint against the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and United States Bureau of Reclamation. They are being asked “to reduce water deliveries to low valued crops,” like almond farms, due to “the extreme risk of extinction to winter-run Chinook salmon and possibly several other species”

Top Photo: Sockeye Salmon by Sam Beebe via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License) 

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