In addition to destroying and threatening thousands of homes and businesses, the devastating Glass Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties jeopardized the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Inland Chinook Salmon Program – until the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville came to the rescue. The Feather River Fish Hatchery is owned and maintained by the California Department of Water Resources – and operated by CDFW.
Each year, CDFW raises approximately 800,000 Chinook salmon smolts and fingerlings for planting and recreational fishing in large foothill and valley reservoirs from Fresno County to Trinity County. These landlocked salmon often grow quite large and fill an ecological and recreational angling niche in these deep-water impoundments not typically occupied by other fish species.
The state record inland Chinook salmon came from Trinity Lake in 2013 weighing 20 pounds, 15 ounces. Anglers regularly catch inland Chinook salmon weighing 7 to 8 pounds at Lake Oroville and 5 to 6 pounds at Folsom Lake.
The inland Chinook salmon originate with eggs collected and spawned at the Feather River Fish Hatchery each fall from salmon returning to the Feather River. The eggs and fish are excess to the hatchery’s annual production goals. About 1.4 million Chinook salmon eggs were collected from the Feather River Fish Hatchery in early October and designated for the Inland Chinook Salmon Program.
Ordinarily, most of these eggs are taken to CDFW’s Silverado Fisheries Base in Napa County for incubation, where they remain until the baby salmon are big enough for stocking. The Silverado Fisheries Base suffered power outages and came under threat of evacuation as a result of the Glass Fire.
In response to the emergency and with assistance from CDFW’s Inland Chinook Salmon Program staff, temporary adjustments were made at the Feather River Fish Hatchery to keep the eggs, incubate them and grow out the salmon until the Silverado Fisheries Base is once again able to accommodate the fish, likely in November.
CDFW staff set up additional fish-rearing incubators in their Inland Chinook Salmon Building. That building typically only has space to hold 300,000 eggs and baby salmon destined for Lake Oroville. Thanks to the extra effort, the Feather River Hatchery is now holding 1.4 million eggs that represent the entire annual production of the state’s Inland Chinook Salmon Program.
“Understanding the inherent risk of losing an entire year’s production, CDFW staff will play a crucial role in ensuring future inland Chinook fisheries in Folsom, Oroville, and eight other lakes and reservoirs,” said Kyle Murphy, a senior environmental scientist with CDFW’s Fisheries Branch. “This interagency teamwork will have long-reaching effects for thousands of anglers in central and northern California.”
Adding to the stress, the Feather River Fish Hatchery itself was ordered to evacuate for a day Oct. 15 due to a nearby fire in Oroville. Both the Oroville fire and the Glass Fire have been contained and no longer pose threats to either facility.