It Begins: The Fall Spawning of Millions of Salmon on the Feather River

Alan Sheckter Photography

The annual process of spawning millions of salmon returned to Oroville this week as the Feather River Fish Hatchery began the two-month process of harvesting over 15 million salmon eggs.

Opening to the public on September 14, the Feather River Fish Hatchery raises Chinook salmon and steelhead along the Feather River, just below Lake Oroville. The hatchery is wonderful place to learn about the salmon spawning process and includes an underwater window to see the hatchery displays and a viewing area of the fish ladder.

The Department of Fish & Wildlife says they’ll likely harvest more than 3 million Spring-Run Chinook Salmon eggs and 12 million Fall-Run eggs over the next two months.

The process of harvesting salmon is a long and arduous journey, but hatchery officials hope to give the salmon the best opportunity to survive and spawn in the future.

Alan Sheckter Photography

Hatchery officials extract the eggs from the returning salmon and manually harvest them in the facility. Once the eggs become baby fish, they are released into the river, where they begin the long journey to the Pacific Ocean. After three years in the ocean, they use their natural GPS system to return through the Delta, up the Sacramento River to the Feather River. Then the process begins all over again.

The process can be seen for free at the 2018 Oroville Salmon Festival, which is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 22 at the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville and in downtown Oroville.

Alan Sheckter Photography

The new salmon spawning season comes after a year and a half of tribulation for salmon populations on the Feather River. When the Oroville Dam spillway collapsed in February 2017, thousands of salmon were killed downstream in the Feather River.  Following the crisis, local fishing groups pressured officials to raise more fish this year to make up for those lost during the collapse.

The DWR agreed to pay Fish and Wildlife around $350,000 to raise an additional 2 million salmon at the Feather River Hatchery below the dam. One million of the salmon were released in the Feather River in March during a “pulse flow,” where more water is released to aid the salmon’s survival from predators. Then, a little over a month later, a million more salmon were controversially released 70 miles downstream in the Sacramento River.

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