Fall Chinook Salmon Returns to Sacramento River Slip Projections in 2023

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 16, 2024

Contacts: Scott Artis, Golden State Salmon Association, 925-550-9208, scott@goldenstatesalmon.org

Fall Chinook Salmon Returns to Sacramento River Slip Projections by 31,000 Fish in 2023: California Water Policies Continue to Harm Salmon Families

Santa Rosa, Calif. — Today, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) released its review of the 2023 salmon fisheries and reported a total of 133,638 hatchery and natural area adult spawning fall-run Chinook were estimated to have returned to the Sacramento River Basin last year.

The report stated that fall Chinook returns to Sacramento River hatcheries in 2023 totaled 28,026 adults and 4,920 jacks, and escapement to natural areas was 105,612 adults and 7,013 jacks. The 133,638 returning hatchery and natural adult spawners falls short of the 164,964 projected spawning escapement in the Sacramento River Basin. The PFMC will formally review this report at its March 2024 meeting prior to the development of management alternatives for the approaching fishing season.

“These salmon numbers are yet another reminder of the incredibly negative impacts of California’s water policies on salmon families,” said Scott Artis, executive director of Golden State Salmon Association. “The Newsom Administration has made it clear that salmon in our rivers, salmon in our oceans, and local salmon on the back decks of boats that feed families and support tens of thousands of jobs is acceptable collateral damage for the continued diversions of vast quantities of water required by unsustainable industrial almond operations.”

In April 2023, the PFMC voted to close last year’s salmon fishing season–a drastic step that affected all of California’s marine waters as well as ocean salmon fishing off most of the Oregon coast. By May 2023, California Fish and Game Commission followed suit and unanimously adopted emergency regulations for Chinook salmon recreational fishing closures for the Klamath River, Trinity River, Eel River and Smith River due to federal salmon closure recommendations. The Commission cited multiple causes including low flows that led to a significant decline of California Chinook salmon stocks.

The 2023 closure was the second time in history salmon fishing had been closed in California. Fishery managers typically allow fishing that will still deliver a minimum of 122,000 salmon to spawn in the Sacramento Basin, but in recent years they’ve increased that target number. In 2022, fishing was curtailed in an effort to see more than 180,000 fall run salmon return to spawn but less than 62,000 actually showed up.    

Since Gavin Newsom became governor, salmon numbers have declined while acreage planted in ultra-thirsty almond orchards has increased. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 1995 there were 483,700 total acres of almond orchards in California. By 2022, the most recent year in which complete numbers are available, that number had increased to 1,630,000. Similar dramatic growth can be seen in other permanent crops, such as pistachios. Additionally, Newsom’s appointed State Water Board has also bottled-up rules adopted in December of 2018 requiring more flows in San Joaquin Valley rivers to improve salmon numbers.   

“These numbers fall short of the 2023 projections and come just a few weeks after Governor Newsom released his salmon strategy, and now we know why,” said Artis. “It was simply a public relations move to get out in front of the bad salmon returns. We will know that the Governor is actually serious about helping salmon families when he finally abandons his extreme water diversions–diversions that kill salmon eggs through lethally hot water temperatures and eliminate the water flows in our rivers that baby salmon need to carry them safely to the ocean.”

Currently, a healthy and functional California salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity and 23,000 jobs annually and contributes approximately $700 million to the economy and supports more than 10,000 jobs in Oregon. Industry workers benefiting from Central Valley salmon stretch from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This includes commercial fishermen and women, recreational fishermen and women (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and others.

Golden State Salmon Association (www.goldenstatesalmon.org) is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fishermen and women, businesses, restaurants, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GSSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values.