Saturday, October 3, 2009

Salmon carcass in Battle Creek estimated at 85 pounds

(85 pound salmon carcass found)
By Dylan Darling
Edited by Sherri Russell

Doug Killam, associate fisheries biologist in the state Department of Fish and Game's Red Bluff office, holds up a massive Chinook salmon carcass found late last week on Battle Creek near Anderson. DFG scientists estimate the fish weighed 85 pounds dead, and even more when it was alive. Courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Game.

It sounds like a typical fish story.

But the state scientists who found an estimated 85-pound chinook salmon have the photos to support their whopper.

"We see lots of big ones," said Doug Killam, associate fisheries biologist in state Department of Fish and Game's Red Bluff office, "but this one was just bigger than most big ones - it was just spectacular."

In a photo of the monster fish find last week on Battle Creek near Anderson, Killam strains to hold the spawned-out salmon.

"If someone would have caught this one, it probably would have been a state record," Killam said.

Measuring in at 51 inches - 4 1/4 feet - long, the male salmon was likely five to six years old, Killam said. Scientists used the salmon's girth and length to come up with their estimate of 85 pounds - and that's dead. The salmon probably weighed about 90 pounds alive when it started its swim from the Pacific Ocean back to Battle Creek, CA.

"That's a big one," said Jeffrey David "J.D." Richey, owner of J.D. Richey Sport fishing in Sacramento. "I would have liked to catch him in his prime."

A guide for more than 10 years on the Sacramento, Richey said the biggest salmon one of his clients has caught is a 52-pounder and the state record was an 88-pound chinook caught on the Sacramento in 1979.

Not only is the fish found on Battle Creek in the league with that record catch, it's also close to biggest sport chinook salmon ever caught in the country - a 97-pounder caught on Alaska's Kenai River in 1986, said Jim Smith, a project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Red Bluff.

(Les Anderson's world record, 97-pound, 4-ounce king salmon)

The size of a salmon is a result of its genetics, its food intake in the ocean and its luck in dodging commercial and sport fishers. Because of recent low returns of fall-run Chinooks to the Sacramento River system, the big fish was protected from the latter.

Federal and state officials called off a commercial salmon fishery this year off the state's coast and are allowing nothing but a short sport season in the Sacramento River because of the low runs.

"A fish that big would have been caught in the fishery," Smith said.

While the decline in salmon runs has been blamed on poor ocean conditions in recent years, Smith said they likely didn't affect the big fish. The poor conditions were caused by the lack of an upwelling, where winds over the ocean draw up water laden with krill and other tiny foods that are gobbled by growing salmon. Once they make it past two years old, the salmon palate changes and they dine on herrings, sardines and other small fish.

Although monstrous, the salmon found on Battle Creek is part of a meager salmon run on the stream that feeds Coleman National Fish Hatchery. This year's fall-run has been about 13,000 fish, said Scott Hamelberg, the hatchery's manager.

Average runs at the hatchery have been between 20,000 and 30,000 fish.

But Hamelberg said the run has been "awesome" because it will produce enough eggs - about 15 million - for the hatchery to release its goal of 12 million smolts next spring.

While the hatchery gets its share of big fish, Hamelberg said he's never seen an 80-pounder.

"The biggest one we saw in the spawning building so far (this year) was 53 pounds," he said.

This monster salmon raises hope for the west coast.  After a disastrous couple of years for Pacific salmon populations that forced complete closures of commercial salmon fishing seasons, many are hoping this giant salmon is a sign that things will get better soon and that this beast of a salmon has passed its superior genes on to another generation of monster salmon. But more importantly many are hoping that the salmon’s ocean food sources are in good enough condition to help salmon populations recover from this year’s disaster and to sustain and expand healthy salmon populations in years to come.

Salmon are an incredibly important fish species to the Pacific Ocean and as a major food fish in many parts of the world. The loss or a continued decline of salmon populations would have major impacts on ocean environments, marine bird and animal populations, coastal ecosystems, food supplies, and the economies of coastal towns and villages all over the Pacific rim that rely on salmon fishing to make a living.

(85 pound salmon carcass found)


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More