Historical and present distribution of Chinook salmon in the Central Valley drainage of California

TitleHistorical and present distribution of Chinook salmon in the Central Valley drainage of California
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsYoshiyama, R. M., Gerstung E. R., Fisher F. W., & Moyle P. B.
Series EditorBrown, R. L.
Series TitleContributions to the Biology of Central Valley Salmonids
InstitutionCalifornia Department of Fish and Game
AbstractChinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) formerly were highly abundant and widely distributed in virtually all the major streams of California's Central Valley drainage—encompassing the Sacramento River basin in the north and San Joaquin River basin in the south. We used information from historical narratives and ethnographic accounts, fishery records and locations of in-stream natural barriers to determine the historical distributional limits and, secondarily, to describe at least qualitatively the abundances of chinook salmon within the major salmon-producing Central Valley watersheds. Individual synopses are given for each of the larger streams that historically supported or currently support salmon runs. In the concluding section, we compare the historical distributional limits of chinook salmon in Central Valley streams with present-day distributions to estimate the reduction of in-stream salmon habitat that has resulted from human activities—namely, primarily the construction of dams and other barriers and dewatering of stream reaches. We estimated that at least 1,057 mi (or 48%) of the stream lengths historically available to salmon have been lost from the original total of 2,183 mi in the Central Valley drainage. We included in these assessments all lengths of stream that were occupied by salmon, whether for spawning and holding or only as migration corridors. In considering only spawning and holding habitat (in other words, excluding migration corridors in the lower rivers), the proportionate reduction of the historical habitat range was far more than 48% and probably exceeded 72% because most of the former spawning and holding habitat was located in upstream reaches that are now inaccessible for salmon. Individual stream assessments revealed substantial differences among streams in the extent of salmon habitat lost. Some streams experienced little or no reduction (for example, Bear River, Mill Creek) while others were entirely eliminated from salmon production (for example, McCloud, Upper Sacramento , and Upper San Joaquin rivers.)