Is CDFW doing anything to improve steelhead return numbers in the Russian River?

Russian River - Guerneville, CA

Photo Credit: 📷 CDFW

by California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Q: This year’s steelhead return numbers in the Russian River are low. Is the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Warm Springs Hatchery doing anything to improve the situation?

A: As anglers ourselves, we sympathize with the frustration of low steelhead return numbers so far this year. It’s important to remember that the recent steelhead return numbers are preliminary. Peak spawning for steelhead is in February, so it’s still too early to say anything conclusive about this year’s returns. It’s also important to remember that there are many elements beyond CDFW’s control. CDFW cares for steelhead at the hatchery for one year. But the steelhead life cycle is 2-3 years, and they spend much of that time in the ocean where environmental factors impact behavior. Despite modern scientific data and all the resources we have available, the life history of steelhead remains a bit of a mysterious odyssey. The journey from freshwater to the ocean and back is filled with perils, obstacles and unknowns.

Under CDFW’s new hatchery genetic management plan, production this year and moving forward has been reduced from 500,000 to 400,000. CDFW’s goals at both the Warm Springs Hatchery and Coyote Valley Fish Facility are to release 200,000 smolts from each location for a total of 400,000 juvenile steelhead released to the Russian River watershed annually. Standard anadromous hatchery practices can yield a one percent return annually but fluctuate depending on environmental conditions. Steelhead are produced to help sustain a healthy population in the Russian River for future generations, and to provide maximum angler opportunity while adhering to best hatchery management practices.

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