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San Joaquin River Chinook salmon made history last year – sort of

 •  by Lois Henry
San Joaquin River Restoration Program staffers set a rotary screw trap near Scout Island north of Fresno in this Nov. 4, 2019 photo. The trap catches juvenile Chinook salmon that are assessed for number, size and migration timing. Credit: San Joaquin Restoration Program

An unexpected number of Chinook salmon swam up the San Joaquin River last spring, prompting surprise and giddy pronouncements that the river’s long dead spring-run population had been resurrected.

The 500 or so fish were living proof that the 11-year-long river restoration program was a success. A “smashing” success, some advocates said.

Others felt the event was proof that some level of a salmon fishery could be reproduced on the San Joaquin.

But at what cost?

To get this far, the federal government has already spent $250 million. To create a swimmable path for future spring run fish (rather than trucking them upriver), it will have to spend another $600-plus million.

That’s a hefty price tag.

Especially considering the Chinook that came up the flooding San Joaquin in spring 2019 are genetic imposters that will never be able to reach elevations where true spring-run salmon once spawned.

Which begs the question of whether this is truly a “spring run” and, if not, should the river restoration shift focus?

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