Endangered Coho Salmon Recovering Somewhat

In the years immediately before 2001, less than four endangered coho salmon returned to the Russian River (Central California) and its tributaries to spawn. This year that number is an estimated 190 adults. What caused the large increase? A captive breeding program was begun in 2001 to release the offspring of adults grown in a hatchery. It is a collaboration between government agencies, private landowners and scientists. Creating such a program was necessary because coho salmon in the region are critically endangered – to the point of being nearly extinct.

Even with a captive breeding program generating many tiny salmon fry and releasing them, there is no guarantee they will survive to adulthood and return to the rivers and creeks to breed more. For example, in 2007 only one adult coho salmon that biologists tagged returned to spawn from over 6,000 juveniles they released two years before.

So what has caused such dramatic declines in wild salmon since the 1940s when they were very abundant? The answer is human development. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, “Water storage, withdrawal, conveyance, and diversions for agriculture, flood control, domestic, and hydropower purposes have greatly reduced or eliminated historically accessible habitat and/or resulted in direct entrainment mortality of juvenile salmonids.”

Releasing juvenile salmon bred captively won’t restore wild populations unless efforts are also made to restore the natural watersheds to a state that supports them. About ninety percent of regions riverbanks and creekbanks are owned by individuals. Cooperation between all parties committed to rejuvenating the salmon is the key to their survival.

The baby coho, aka alevin, are born in the gravel beds of California creeks and grow into fry by eating aquatic insects. Eventually they grow to a point called smoltification which prepares them to make the journey from a freshwater ecosystem to the salty ocean environment. About half of their life is spent in freshwater, and half in saltwater. After about two years they return to their birthplace to spawn, and then die.

PBS in San Francisco produced a high quality video on the salmon, and how their presence in the rivers and streams of Northern California contributes to the growth of redwood forests. When they die their decomposing bodies provide nutrients to the river environments, including the sediments which become part of the life cycle for trees.

Image Credit: University of Michigan

Related Links

Two Million Baby Salmon Released in CA River
3 Reasons Scientists Fear Genetically Modified Salmon


Vanessa S.
Vanessa S6 years ago

I am so glad to hear that there has been an increase in their population. I hope there is even more success with this program.

Christa Deanne
Oceana Ellingson6 years ago

Poor fish. Poor animals. Poor world, that we have ruined, and continue to ruin. I hope people start waking up, and help this world/allow this world to fix itself, before all is extinct, and all is destroyed beyond repair.

Lindsey Williams
Lindsey Williams6 years ago

thank you!

leanne mcivor
leanne Torio6 years ago

Quit eating the salmon - they are going to be fished until there is no more - then people will quit eating the salmon then - It is time we gave our heads a shake!

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M6 years ago

Thanks for this interesting read Jake. It is sad that 90% of the river banks and creek banks are owned by individuals. The hardest part will be to get cooperation from from all parties to help in rejuvinating the salmon. If people could just realize how their presence helps the redwood forests, as when they die their decomposing bodies provide rich nutrients to the river environments, and the sedements which become part of the cycle of the life of trees.

Avril Van Rooyen
Avril Van Rooyen6 years ago

Too many people.

Too many people causing chaos and disorder to the natural environment.

Too many people everywhere.

Animals - all of them, do not have a hope in hell against the explosive number of humans.

Jessica J.
Jessica J6 years ago

@ gaea, I had the same thought exactly! What is "less than 4", three is just as easy to type and 3,5 a little unlikely... Anyway, good to read that someone is making an effort for the salmon, but to release the small ones in an environment that harms them without the changes necessary is just postponing the inevitable. If I lived near a river I would do anything I could to protect it (I'm a litter loon as it is...) and I hope the folks around this river feel - and ACT - the same.

Lynette B.
Lynette B6 years ago

Hopefully, people will listen.

Rose N.
Past Member 6 years ago

Thank you for posting.

Yvette T.
Past Member 6 years ago

I ate what was fed to me as a child. I have never tainted my spiritual karma via partaking in the killing of beings since becoming an adult. No way can I ignore the rancid suffering imposed by humans upon every part of creation now that I have my own eyes to see with! Wild, industrial farmed (Coated in their own feces!) or anything in-between, home sapien has no business destroying any animal. All SPIRITUAL ADEPTS HAVE TOLD US THIS TRUTH! KARMA will go on until every nuance of pain has been repaid in kind, lifetime after lifetime.