Salmon return to Sacramento

Tackle shops are restocking custom lures, guides are booking trips, and anglers are getting ready: Salmon are coming back to the Sacramento Valley.

It has been four years since the region enjoyed full recreational fishing access to the majestic chinook salmon, a result of cutbacks caused by a steep decline in the fall run. Today in Sacramento, the California Fish and Game Commission is expected to reinstate normal fishing rules in the Sacramento, American and Feather rivers for the first time since 2007.

New data from tagging programs at salmon hatcheries indicate the one-month delay is important to protect the spring run, said Rob Titus, a senior environmental scientist at the Department of Fish and Game.

The department also expects that high water flows this year in the Feather River are likely to make conditions difficult for fishermen during that month anyway.

Doing right by the spring run is especially important because the new tagging data also provide evidence that the more abundant fall run is now a hatchery-dependent species. In short, anglers' primary target has become domesticated by hatchery breeding.

Biologists argue this has weakened the species, making it more vulnerable to the kind of environmental changes that caused the population collapse four years ago.

Whether hatchery or natural, federal officials have reported that the fall run collapsed largely due to changes in the Pacific's upwelling currents that reduced the food available to salmon during their ocean-going adult years. But they did not rule out other factors, including habitat loss, water diversions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and pollution in the fish's freshwater habitat.

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