Historic landmark for Chinook salmon in California

    Caleen Sisk, the chief of the Winnemem Wintu tribe: “We have a long way to go, but there are now more good people working on it.”

    A landmark agreement between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries, and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe to restore Chinook salmon in the mountains north of Redding, California.

    This historic achievement corrects the failures of the past because now the focus is on Chinook salmon preservation. Thus, with the common goal of restoring the species, agreements have been reached by the three parts.

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    Through these agreements, collaboration starts with the aim of returning the Chinook salmon to their original spawning areas, which were affected by the Shasta Dam in North California. The agreement would not only promote the ecology but also contribute to the culture of the Winnemem Wintu tribe, whose salmon fishing had been a key factor in their development.

    “By working together to share our knowledge and expertise, we can expand and accelerate our efforts to restore and recover Chinook salmon,” said Cathy Marcinkevage, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region. “This species is in crisis, and I am confident that we can together drive solutions that will truly make a difference.”

    The chief of Winnemem Wintu, Caleen Sisk, was confident with the union. “It’s incredible that we can now share this vision with CDFW and NOAA. We have a long way to go, but there are now more good people working on it.”

    The Winnemem Wintu Tribe has decision-making power

    Included in the clauses is a requirement to involve the Tribe in salmon decisions. In addition, CDFW has awarded a $2.3 million grant to support the Tribe’s participation in salmon measures.

    All these measures that include the Tribe as an equal are due to the significance that the Winnememem Wintu give to the salmon, as well as the problems that this species has had in recent years. This 2023 brings a total of three years of drought in the region, which has taken its toll on winter-run Chinook salmon and put them in danger of extinction.

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    As a result, as early as the summer of 2022, the Tribe joined with state and federal agencies to improve the winter Chinook salmon’s chances of survival. Thus, proposals by all parties included transporting 40,000 fertilized eggs to the cold McCloud River above Shasta Reservoir, and the Tribe assisted in the collection of fry to prevent them from falling prey to predators after reaching the reservoir.

    Panorama of the valley in northern California, Mount Shasta. Photo by: Adobe Stock.

    Traditional ecological expertise

    Further agreements call for the tribe to contribute with their traditional ecological expertise. Thus, they will share information and knowledge as Winnemem Wintu once did with Livingston Stone, who established the nation’s first Chinook salmon hatchery at McCloud in 1872.

    There are various proposals for the reintroduction and harvesting of the species to remove the “endangered species” classification. Gradually, steps and changes will be seen in the wake of this collaborative and major move for the Chinook salmon.

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