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Thousands of salmon washing up dead on California creek banks due to climate crisis

Thousands of dead Chinook salmon have been found on banks of Butte Creek near Helltown, California

Kelsie Sandoval
in New York
Tuesday 14 September 2021 20:51 BST
California Drought Is Driving Up Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The salmon population in California is plummeting due to conditions linked to the climate crisis.

The state’s Fish and Wildlife Service reported that thousands of dead Chinook salmon have been found on banks of Butte Creek this year, leaving a foul smell in the area of Helltown, 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Severe droughts and record-setting temperatures in the state are killing off the salmon population and threatening future generations, wildlife experts say.

Typically Chinook salmon, one of California’s most celebrated species, would rest in the cool waters of Butte Creek and lay eggs, after swimming hundreds of miles upstream from San Francisco.

But this year the creek’s temperature is ten degrees warmer and killing fish before they can reproduce.

Some 14,500 of 16,000 Chinook salmon in the waterway have died, FWS reported, meaning the number of eggs laid is massively depleted.

Experts fear that these conditions will continue to affect salmon that migrate in the fall and winter.

“In a drought like this, we’re seeing water temperatures go up to very high levels. And that ends up killing them,” Howard Brown, a senior policy adviser with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Washington Post.

Chinook salmon face threats beyond the climate crisis. The Shasta Dam, built 75 years ago north of Helltown, cut off fish populations from the cold Sacramento River waters.

Wildlife officials have since tried to create a bypass, including traps that lift fish over the dam, but population numbers are still dwindling.

FWS has introduced a program to relocate Chinook salmon from the warm creek waters and reintroduce them north of the Shasta Dam.

In California, average temperatures have risen around 1C in the past century. Since records began in the 1880s, the hottest years have been the past seven – 2020 was highest, joint with 2016.

The state is historically prone to long periods of drought, but these are expected to increase with global heating and less reliable rainfall.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which supplies California with water via a network of aqueducts, has become smaller with each decade. In 2021, the snowpack melted two months earlier than expected.

A “megadrought” has reached its worst point in 20 years and is expected to persist through September, leaving California’s reservoirs 50 per cent lower than usual and states of emergency in a majority of counties.

Chinook salmon is not the only species impacted by California’s drought.

Wildlife shelter staff in northern California’s Sonoma County report that members of the public have been dropping off an increasing number of birds and raccoons. The creatures are suffering from a lack of food and water that is believed to be linked to the drought.

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