First Chinook Salmon for 2012 Back in Russian River

Camera records return on Sept. 5.

An underwater fish monitoring video camera located near a fish ladder in the Russian River recorded the first 2012 Chinook salmon on Sept. 5.

The pioneering fish is the first of thousands that are expected to enter the Russian River watershed this season in a year that shows promise for larger than normal returns. 

Chinook salmon are listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act, which means a species that are likely to become extinct throughout all or a large portion of their range.  The Water Agency has been actively working to restore and create habitat for the Chinook salmon for more than a decade. 

“It is always an exciting time of the year when the first Chinook salmon makes its debut in the Russian River,” said Water Agency Chairwoman Shirlee Zane.  “The Water Agency is working diligently with federal, state and local agencies and stakeholder partners to protect the Chinook. 

"Recovering Chinook salmon in the Russian River is among our highest priorities,”  Zane added.

Water Agency biologists and a team of technicians review the time lapse images seven days a week and visit the site daily to clean and maintain the cameras. The Water Agency conducts surveys to monitor fish rearing in the Russian River over the summer and will be tracking the number of salmon returning past the underwater cameras in the months to come. 

The monitoring work is mandated under the State Water Resource Control Board’s Temporary Urgency Change Order.  The Urgency Change Order is required under the National Marine Fishery Service’s Russian River Biological Opinion.

Chinook salmon currently returning to the Russian River are offspring of wild parents that spawned naturally in the upper 75 miles of the river or in Dry Creek. Unlike many steelhead and coho salmon in the Russian River, there is no hatchery production of Chinook salmon.

Fish returning to spawn are 2 to 4 years old. Spawning typically commences in November and continues through January.

Eggs incubate in the gravel for several weeks before fry emerge and begin their downstream migration to the estuary. Water Agency trapping and marking studies have shown that most juvenile Chinook salmon enter the Pacific Ocean by July of their first year of life.

 Poor ocean conditions that led to low food supplies for juvenile fish in 2005 and 2006 negatively affected the abundance of adult salmon for the past several years - hence the prior years’ fishery closures along our coast. 

In 2008, the Water Agency counted only 1,125 fish - our lowest total to date. In 2003, the Water Agency counted nearly 6,100 fish.

Below, in numerical order, is a total count of Chinook salmon from prior years:


2003:  6,103

2002:  5,474

2004:  4,788

2006:  3,410

2011:  3,119

2005:  2,572

2010:  2,414

2007:  1,963

2009:  1,801

2000:  1,445

2001:  1,383

2008:  1,125


The Water Agency will be updating its website with Chinook salmon counts throughout the fall.  Keep track of the Chinook and view pictures at www.sonomacountywater.org/chinook. Residents are encouraged to report any active Chinook poaching or suspicious activity to the Sheriff's Department at 707.565.2121.




Keri Brenner September 16, 2012 at 12:35 AM
I find this so amazing, and so incredible. It brings tears of joy to my eyes at the wonder of these fish, spurred only by their mysterious natural life instinct to battle the elements back to their home river to spawn. It reminds me of the richness of this harvest season and the renewal and rebirth possible for all creatures, including us two-legged mammals.


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