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Monday, October 18, 2021

Chinook salmon spawning in record numbers in Putah Creek

MORGAN TIEU / AGGIE
MORGAN TIEU / AGGIE

UC Davis researchers receive funding for salmon study

Record level numbers of Chinook salmon have been spawning in Putah Creek this winter, likely as a result of improved drought and habitat conditions and various management practices in the region.

“Around 1,500 salmon have been recorded spawning in Putah Creek this winter,” said Peter Moyle, a professor emeritus in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology.

Some researchers have argued that there may even be close to 2,000 salmon spawning there currently, a significant increase from last year’s numbers. During 2016, around 500 to 700 salmon were recorded spawning in Putah Creek.  

Researchers studying the area were surprised and pleased with the increasing numbers of salmon present today. During the 1970s, only a few salmon were recorded in the creek, and, in 2014, numbers were still significantly low, with some 200 salmon observed.

“Since 1999, the species of Chinook salmon present in the Sacramento river region have been identified as a Species of Concern,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service. Poor habitat conditions, the drought and local dams cutting off adequate spawning habitat for the fish contributed to the lower observed numbers recognized over the years.

Moyle proposed that it is new salmon, likely from hatcheries throughout the region that did not originally spawn in Putah Creek, that are coming into the creek now because of increased river flows. Colder water, adequate habitat and established management and restoration projects on the creek have also improved conditions for successful salmon spawning.

During December 2016, researchers at UC Davis received $125,000 from the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) for a study that aims to track the number of juvenile salmon that are present in Putah Creek. Through this genetic study, researchers will be able to understand which and how many fish are native to the creek. This knowledge will be able to guide decision-makers about which creek management choices to make for successful salmon survival conditions.

“I think it’s great to have better scientific knowledge about these fish […] Hopefully it can help us shape how we manage the creek so that we can enhance the habitat further,” said Chris Lee, principal water resources specialist for the SCWA.

For now, the improved habitat and the increasing numbers of Chinook salmon spawning in Putah Creek has indicated that this ecosystem is recovering, as are the numbers of other kinds of species local to the area too.

Moyle believes that with a continued rainy year ahead, the creek may hold even more salmon in the future.

Written By: Anya Rehon – city@theaggie.org

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