Where do California's chinook salmon come from?
We've all heard the story about the salmon's migration -- how young fish just a few inches long travel from the streams and rivers where they were born out through the Delta, San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate. And we know how, usually after a few years of voracious feeding out there in the Pacific Ocean, the big strapping salmon -- the largest chinook ever caught in California was 88 pounds and about four feet long -- return to their natal streams. There, they spawn in cold water and clean gravel. Then they die, but the age-old cycle is renewed.
That story is true -- but there's something more to it. Chinook salmon have faced a host of challenges as California has become the most populous state in the nation and developed the country's biggest agricultural industry. Since both cities and farms need water, and plenty of it, virtually all of the great rivers that have been home to salmon have been dammed and developed. Salmon on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries have long since been blocked from most of their spawning habitat.
And because of that, hatcheries play an essential part in the chinook salmon's story. That's a chapter that not too many people get to see, but it's on display each fall in hatcheries up and down the Sacramento Valley. One of those facilities, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Feather River Fish Hatchery, is the destination of tens of thousands of homeward-migrating chinook every fall.