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Millions of Chinook salmon released to increase drought-affected population

Courtesy of Golden State Salmon Association.

A new program at Shasta County’s Coleman National Fish Hatchery aims to remedy the impacts of the drought on the salmon population in the Sacramento River.

The hatchery hatched an additional 2 million juvenile Chinook salmon in October. About 1.2 million of those young salmon, called fry, have been released into the Sacramento River this month — with more to come in the new year.

The project, called the surplus fry program, aims for fish to imprint on the river, and return as adults during spawning season.

Courtesy of Golden State Salmon Association

President of the Golden State Salmon Association John McManus said the program was discontinued in the 1990s, but rebooting it could be a boon to the river.

"In the current drought that we're in right now, we've lost many of the naturally spawning salmon that would normally return to the upper Sacramento River," McManus said, "In the past when the surplus fry program was going on, fishing was reportedly considerably better in the upper Sacramento River. So we're hopeful that by restarting this program, it will greatly improve the fishery in the upper Sacramento River."

The project is a way to see if hatchery-produced fish can be used to increase the natural spawning population. The salmon will be monitored with DNA tracking to see which return to the area to spawn once they've matured.

The hatchery plans to continue releasing surplus fry into the river over the next few years.