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Helping salmon survive: late fall release from Coleman National Fish Hatchery

Action News Now goes behind the scenes of the late fall chinook salmon release in Anderson, California

Posted: Dec 10, 2019 8:27 AM

ANDERSON, Calif. – It is said a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Something similar has recently taken place at the only federal fish hatchery in California. This time, however it could be better described as the first “splash” towards the open ocean.

Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough recently visited Anderson, to go behind the scenes to learn more about the process of getting young fish from a hatchery to the ocean.

On the grounds of the Coleman National Fish Hatchery visitors will see rows of water-filled concrete lanes. They are 150-feet long and two-and-a-half feet deep and are known as raceways. A glance into the lanes and one quickly spots tell-tale movement that is none other than the energy of thousands of yearling fish. In this case, chinook salmon. Thousands of them are just moments from hitting open water.

Project Leader Brett Galyean, explained the hatchery is releasing 840-thousand late fall chinook salmon into Battle Creek so they can start their outward migration to the Pacific Ocean, which is a 300 mile journey.

The Coleman National Fish Hatchery is located in Anderson. It was established 77 years ago to create safe salmon habitat after the construction of the Shasta and Keswick Dams.

The work biologist conduct at the hatchery help to ensure salmon populations survive and thrive and some of that work starts inside a lab. Galyean says an extremely labor-intensive process takes place for several days leading up to the release. Biologist use a scalpel to make a small incision on the fish in order to insert a small acoustic tag. There are beacons in the river, so as the tagged fish swim past; 600 salmon in this batch, information is recorded. Scientist then know where the fish are located which provides valuable data regarding survival rates and the success of the outward migration.

The process of transporting the fish from the raceways to open water is a team effort by hatchery staff. Team members get into the water and use what is known as a crowder to move the salmon along. They literally ‘crowd’ the salmon towards an intake hose, attached to a hydraulic pump.

That pump then sucks water along with thousands of fish into pipe and the force moves them, in just seconds, about a quarter-mile inside tubing, to then splash out into Battle Creek. It is their first taste of full freedom and open water.

From that point, the fish will swim the next 295 miles, heading south down the Sacramento River, then head west towards San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge with instinct pulling them towards the Pacific Ocean.

Galyean says the salmon released from the hatchery in this late fall run, can be expected to migrate north, perhaps as far as Oregon or Washington. Those that survive will likely make their way back to local waters within two to three years.

The salmon are a key element to the regions multi-million dollar fishing industry for both commercial and recreational pursuits. Yarbough asked Galyean what he loves most about his work. He said he enjoys playing a role in keeping healthy salmon populations in Northern California waters for years to come.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

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