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Nearly Half Million Salmon Fry Released into Klamath River as Dam Removal Stirs Controversy

On Tuesday, April 16, joined by leaders from the Karuk, Yurok, Shasta Indian Nation and the Quartz Valley Indian tribes, CDFW released about 90,000 yearling coho salmon.

The following day, April 17, CDFW released more than 400,000 fall-run Chinook salmon fry from the same location below Iron Gate. A total of approximately 500,000 juvenile salmon into the Klamath River just below the Iron Gate Dam were successfully released, It was the first major release of coho salmon, a state and federally listed threatened species, into the Klamath River since dam removal began in earnest late last year.

As the Klamath enters a new era, all eyes will be on the salmon, and whether they can navigate a river still recovering from a century of human impacts. The next few years will be critical in determining if the Klamath can reclaim its legacy as a major salmon-producing waterway and whether the salmon fry released will beat the odds and find their way back to their native waters.

While the dam removal was backed by tribes and environmental groups seeking to restore salmon access to ancestral spawning grounds, locals accuse state politicians of ignoring their concerns in the process. “The real culprit is the governor and legislature of California,” argued a resident. “They had the power to stop it or mitigate it, and they didn’t.”

Residents living along the Klamath are dismayed by the condition of the river post-dam removal. There are concerns that the sediment has killed off insects and other invertebrates that juvenile salmon rely on for food. “There’s nothing more I’d like to see than to be able to walk outside our cabin and throw a line into this river and catch a Coho salmon,” said one resident. “But they didn’t take into account the people that rely on this river for drinking water and irrigation.”

However, the salmon release comes on the heels of a controversial dam removal project that many locals say has severely impacted the river ecosystem. In 2023, four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath were removed, releasing built-up reservoirs of sediment that had accumulated over the past century. Video footage taken just 50 miles downstream shows the riverbanks coated in thick layers of clay sludge.

Fish and Wildlife officials say it will take time and careful management for salmon populations to rebound. Fishing quotas will likely be required in the near-term to ensure enough salmon escape up-river to spawn. But with hundreds of miles of habitat reopened, they remain optimistic. “If they see 9,000 come back out of the 900,000 fish released, that’s a huge increase on what they’ve seen in the past,” noted one resident. “But you can’t let the tribes catch 6,000 at the mouth. That’s not giving the fish a chance.”

Yearling coho salmon are released into the Klamath River below Iron Gate dam. Credit: Yurok FB Page

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2 Comments

  1. Don Meamber

    The 3rd paragraph sounds like a comment from the tribes or enviros: “all eyes will be on the salmon, and whether they can navigate a river still recovering from a century of human impacts.” (criticism of the hydroelectric dams)
    6th paragraph: “In 2023, four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath were removed”. (The dams are drained but not yet removed.)

  2. Kevin Gee

    Thanks Capt. Bill for shedding light on this environomic catastrophe. As bad as it is, would appear to be close to getting worse. https://kobi5.com/news/krrc-starting-to-remove-iron-gate-dam-from-the-top-down-227714/

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