In 1960, California voters authorized construction and operation of the California State Water Project and construction of Oroville Dam on the Feather River. The dam and other project features were completed in 1968 and provide water storage, hydroelectric power, flood control, and recreational benefits. The dam blocked anadromous fish access to spawning and nursery habitat and the Feather River Hatchery (FRH) was constructed to rear and release juvenile spring and fall Chinook salmon, and steelhead.
The purpose of the Feather River Hatchery (FRH) is to produce and release juvenile fall and spring Chinook salmon, and steelhead, to mitigate for lost habitat and anadromous fish production due to the construction and operation of Oroville Dam and its associated facilities. In addition to a Mitigation purpose, FRH also produces fall Chinook salmon for the Commercial Salmon Trollers Enhancement and Restoration Program to benefit ocean Chinook landings, collects eggs for the statewide Inland Chinook salmon program and produces fall Chinook for the Lake Oroville inland Fishery as required by their Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license. Hatchery managers strive to minimize negative ecological and genetic impacts to all fish populations, and to conserve the integrity of spring and fall Chinook salmon, and steelhead populations in the Feather River.
Commercial Salmon Trollers Enhancement and Restoration Program
Feather River Fish Hatchery produces up to 1 million fall Chinook salmon for the Commercial Salmon Trollers Enhancement and Restoration Program (Enhancement Program). The Enhancement Program collects a portion of the funds from commercial fishing licenses sold in California and puts the funds in an account for CDFW to use for “new or expanded salmon restoration and enhancement programs in the state that will serve to increase ocean salmon landings” (F&G Code 7860-7863). The Salmon Trollers Advisory Committee is the body that recommends projects to be funded by the Department for the Enhancement Program.
Inland Chinook Program
The Feather River Fish Hatchery collects approximately 1.8 million fall Chinook eggs for the statewide Inland Chinook Program to provide an added recreational opportunity for anglers around the state. All eggs are triploided on site making the resulting fish unable to reproduce to reduce any potential for genetic introgression to Chinook salmon populations downstream of the planting location. The Feather River Fish Hatchery will produce approximately 125,000 yearling Chinook for the Lake Oroville Inland Chinook fishery, while the remaining eggs are transported to the Silverado Fish Base in Yountville, California to be reared for stocking throughout the state.
The FRH spring Chinook salmon program purpose has been identified in a draft Hatchery and Genetic Management Plan (HGMP) as “the conservation of phenotypic and genotypic characteristics of Feather River spring-run Chinook salmon while minimizing impacts to other listed fishes” (DWR 2012). A secondary purpose of the program was identified “to mitigate for spawning and rearing habitat eliminated due to construction of Oroville Dam in the early 1960s”. Hatchery and natural-origin Feather River spring Chinook salmon are listed as “threatened” and are part of the Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon ESU that includes spring Chinook salmon from Deer, Mill, and Butte creeks (NOAA 2005). The current production goal is 2 million spring-run smolts.
The FRH fall Chinook salmon program is implemented as a mitigation program that provides important harvest opportunities for commercial and recreational fisheries. Hatchery and natural origin fall-run Chinook salmon from the Feather River are listed as a “Species of Concern” under the federal Endangered Species Act (NOAA 2004). The mitigation production goal is 6 million fall-run juveniles.
The FRH steelhead program is implemented as a mitigation program to provide recreational fishing opportunities and as a conservation program. FRH personnel propagate Central Valley steelhead that were listed as threatened March 19, 1998 and reaffirmed January 5, 2005 (NMFS 2005). Both hatchery and natural origin steelhead from the Feather River are considered part of the Central Valley steelhead ESU (NOAA 2006). Annual mitigation goal for steelhead is to collect release 450,000 yearlings at 3 fish/pound.