Wildlife experts encouraged by Chinook salmon run on Mokelumne River

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CLEMENTS, Calif. (KTXL) -- The numbers of Chinook salmon halfway through the fall and winter run on the Mokelumne River look encouraging for those concerned about the species, which is endangered or threatened in numerous areas of the West Coast.

"Our average is about 10,000 and this year I think we're going to push 14,000," said Mokelumne River Hatchery Manager William Smith.

The hatchery harvests around 7 million eggs a year from female salmon who make their way up the river. The resulting infant fish are released in the spring for a journey to the Pacific Ocean where they mature and return in several years to repeat the cycle.

A good number of salmon also lay eggs naturally in man-made gravel beds.

A decadeslong effort to improve spawning habitat and conditions that help infant fish is a joint effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department and the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which operates the Camanche Reservoir on the river.

EBMUD also helps design strategies like improving pathways in the Delta to make it easier for mature fish to reach spawning grounds, finding the best locations for fish releases and helping to manage water flows and water temperatures from the dam.

Last year, Mokelumne salmon accounted for around 33% of the recreational fishing in the ocean and a whopping 43% of the commercial harvest in the ocean.

"Given that the Mokelumne River accounts for less than 3% of the outflows to the Delta, that's an astounding number," said Michelle Workman, watershed and recreation manager for EBMUD.

While the two previous years saw Chinook salmon counts of 17,000 and 20,000, possibly due to unusually wet winters, the 14,000 expected to return this fall and winter still represents a number well above the average run.

Wildlife experts hope that represents an upward trend.

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