Major Spike in Dead Juvenile Salmon on Klamath River Reported by Yurok Fisheries Department

By Dan Bacher |

The already horrific juvenile fish kill on the Klamath River in this unprecedented drought year is getting even worse.

On Friday, June 4, the Yurok Fisheries Department’s Fish Disease Monitoring Crew counted 361 dead juvenile Chinook salmon in a rotary screw trap on the Klamath River, near Weitchpec.

“This is by far the single highest daily count of dead baby salmon since the Fisheries Department started collecting data on the catastrophic fish kill in early May. The deceased fish present the physical signs of a disease called Ceratonova shasta, which is killing salmon at an extremely rapid rate,” according to a statement from the Tribe.

Ceratonova shasta is a microscopic parasite that infects the intestines of juvenile and adult salmon and trout, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was first observed at the Crystal Lake Hatchery, Shasta CountyCalifornia, and has now been reported from Idaho, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. 

“Typically, juvenile fish kills go unseen because a broad array of birds, mammals and even other fish species quickly consume sick baby salmon. It appears the fish are dying so fast that nature can’t keep up. In mid-May, 98 percent of sampled salmon were severely infected by C. shasta,” the Tribe said.

The Tribe said the disease is expected to eliminate an entire year class of fish, which will reduce the Klamath River’s already imperiled salmon runs for many years to come.

“For a people who depend on salmon for their physical and spiritual wellbeing, it is excruciatingly painful to watch this unfold in our backyard. No words can explain the level of trauma experienced from seeing baby fish die every day,” the Tribe concluded.

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Also this week, The Karuk Tribe announced that they have declared a state of climate emergency in response to record low precipitation in the Klamath Basin as the massive juvenile salmon kill unfolds on the Klamath River.

“This emergency declaration acknowledges the reality that climate change is upon us, and the dangers that it poses to rivers, forests, wildlife and communities,” according to the Tribe in their “Resolution Declaring a State of Emergency Due to Climate Change.

The resolution points out “there has been a consensus among 97% of Climate scientists that Climate Change is a reality.”

It also said the Karuk Tribe’s fish monitoring efforts currently detect a greater than 95% prevalence of infection among Chinook and Coho Salmon.

In a statement on June 1, the Tribe said, “Hydrological conditions in the Klamath River Basin are the worst in modern history, although in recent years this has become an all-too-common refrain. Ecosystems and economies all along the California/Oregon border are strained to their breaking point. A massive fish kill is currently underway in the Klamath River that could result in losing an entire generation of salmon.”

“Our monitoring traps are full of dead juvenile salmon,” said Toz Soto, Fisheries Program Manager for the Karuk Tribe. “The few fish still alive are infected with disease. It’s a catastrophic blow to the fishery and Karuk culture.”

The Tribe said the current Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) operations plan calls for “flushing flows” to scour the river channel and dilute parasites during disease outbreaks.  This year, historically low inflows to Upper Klamath Lake led BOR to rule out a flushing flow to the river.

“BOR’s decision to not provide flushing flows is allowing a massive juvenile fish kill to take place. Over 95% of sampled fish are infected. We have to keep as much water in the river as possible to allow some fish to survive,” stated Soto.

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