San Francisco – The State Water Resources Control Board ordered the federal Bureau of Reclamation to immediately reduce water releases from Lake Shasta in order to avoid a second catastrophic salmon kill. The May 29 order from water board executive director Tom Howard followed a May 20 request from the Golden Gate Salmon Association to the water board to better protect salmon in 2015.

Water released from Lake Shasta in 2014 was too warm to sustain incubating salmon eggs in the upper Sacramento River leading to the loss of almost an entire generation of winter and fall run king salmon. Winter run salmon are federally protected by the Endangered Species Act. Fall run salmon provide the backbone of the ocean salmon fishery off California and most of Oregon. The 2014 losses were documented in measurements taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In response to advocacy by the Golden Gate Salmon Association, salmon hatchery managers trucked most of their baby fall run salmon in 2014 and all in 2015. This means that although the ocean will be largely empty of naturally spawned salmon that would return as 3-year-old adults in 2017 and 2018, there may still be enough salmon from hatchery stocks to warrant fishing in those years. However, it's unclear what steps fishing regulators will take to protect naturally spawned surviving salmon in the years to come. Severe restrictions, or even a closure of the fishery, are on the minds of salmon fishermen.

“The state water board has stepped in at the last minute to save our salmon,” said executive GGSA director John McManus. “We're thankful the state water board heard the pleas of GGSA and is acting to save 2015's salmon from the drought. Hopefully we're not too late.”

Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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