Bodega Bay fish release held up after widespread calls for further review

05/17/2017

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife pulled the plug on a planned release of 250,000 chinook salmon scheduled for this month in Bodega Bay—a project the Golden Gate Salmon Association coordinated to boost fishing prospects—after local environmental groups and a trove of state and federal agencies requested the agency conduct a full environmental review first. 

Kevin Shaffer, chief of Fish and Wildlife’s fisheries branch, said the department put the project on pause after receiving two letters of concern, one of which was signed by 20 organizations and public agencies. “When you’ve got all those organizations—they’re all our partners—asking us to reconsider and do a better evaluation, that definitely carries some serious reconsideration,” he said. Mr. Shaffer said the department will spend the next year evaluating the possible impacts of the
release. 

“I’m glad the brakes were put on [the project] right now, because it was rolling ahead with full steam without a [California Environmental Quality Act] review,” said Gordon Bennett, an Inverness resident, the president of Save Our Seashore and a member of the Lagunitas Creek Technical Advisory Committee, both of which signaled concerns to the department. 

Those concerns revolved around the potential for hatchery chinook to compete with wild fish for spawning grounds and habitat, as well as introduce disease. 

“This project could’ve been really harmful to the wild restoration efforts we are all working on in the watershed,” Mr. Bennett said. 

The proposal, which a Fish and Wildlife salmon committee approved, would have represented the northernmost release in California to date and the first in Bodega Bay, where there are now barely 1,000 salmon trollers fishing in the Farallones sanctuary, as opposed to 6,000 a decade or more ago. 

Though hatchery releases are more common south of the San Francisco Bay, where the populations of wild salmon are either low or nonexistent, Fish and Wildlife has yet to conduct a CEQA assessment of the impacts further north, where there are larger wild populations, Mr. Bennett said. “Hatchery releases are a last resort and we have a good shot of recovering native populations here,” he added. 

For his part, Gregory Andrew, the fishery program manager for Marin Municipal Water District—which has dedicated significant funds to improving fish habitat in the Lagunitas Creek watershed—agrees that an environmental assessment is necessary before moving ahead with the plan. 

He also said that, under the right circumstances, a hatchery release could not only provide benefits for recreational and commercial fishermen, but also important information for scientists about which streams the fish choose for spawning and how such releases affect wild salmon. “Whether you’re a fisherman or an environmentalist, we all want the same thing: for the salmon populations to recover,” Mr. Andrew said. 

The quarter-million chinook originally destined for Bodega Bay will be released at traditional release sites in San Francisco Bay.