Yuba Salmon: Frequently Asked Questions

What are Yuba Salmon?

Wild Yuba salmon are Chinook salmon that are native to the Yuba River. They once migrated between the ocean and the upper reaches of the North, Middle, and South forks of the Yuba River each year between June and November. The spring-run population belong to the threatened species of Pacific Chinook salmon, protected under the Endangered Species Act.

What kind of fish are Yuba Salmon?  

Chinook salmon are an anadromous fish. These species hatch and live the first part of their lives in fresh water, feeding on the larvae of insects and crustaceans, then migrate to the ocean to mature into adults. When they are ready to reproduce, they swim hundreds – even thousands – of miles back to the stream where they were hatched. Salmon prefer to live in shaded and cold water, building redds (salmon nests) out of cobble on the riverbed. Soon after building their redds in Yuba River gravel and laying and fertilizing their eggs, they die.

Why are Yuba Salmon important to the Yuba River watershed?

Yuba salmon are very important to the health of the Yuba River watershed. They are what is called a keystone species, as the entire ecosystem would change dramatically if salmon no longer existed.  They occupy an important link in the Yuba’s food web, and their health is linked to the health of other wildlife. If salmon aren’t thriving, the Yuba River watershed isn’t thriving. Yuba salmon are also important for economic and cultural reasons.

What happened to them?

Fish populations in the Yuba River have declined due to human impacts to the river. The Yuba River was once home to a thriving ecosystem with braided channels that supported an abundant fish population and habitat for wildlife. During the Gold Rush era, hydraulic mining suffocated the lower Yuba’s habitat with tons of debris. Later, dredger mining reworked that material and created a channelized river system with levees to protect downstream communities from flooding. In 1941, Englebright Dam was constructed, permanently restricting fish passage to the upper watershed and altering flows in the lower watershed. Today, The Goldfields, over 10,000 acres of reworked hydraulic mining sediment from the upper watershed, and impaired flows slows the recovery of riverine habitat and negatively impacts Chinook and steelhead populations. This is compounded by changing ocean conditions. For the past several years we have had record low numbers of salmon return to the Yuba River. It has never been more important to implement drastic, immediate measures to help the Yuba River watershed thrive.

What is habitat restoration, and why is it important?

Active habitat restoration rehabilitates the Yuba River’s historic floodplain into a functioning ecosystem after a hundred years of legacy mining and human impacts. Restoration specifically includes removing deposited gravel to widen floodplains and creating year-round low flowing side channel habitat, both critical actions for the growth and survival of juvenile salmon. In the winter months, juvenile salmon take refuge from high flows in the main channel by swimming to shallower, slower flowing water on floodplains and in side channels. Restoration also includes planting of native species and placing spawning-friendly gravel below dams, creating a thriving riparian corridor for salmon and other species that rely on a healthy river ecosystem to survive.

Are there other threatened fish in the Yuba?

Yes, there are! Three fish species native to the Yuba River are threatened with risk of extinction: spring-run Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and green sturgeon. The goal of the Yuba Salmon Now Campaign is to restore healthy conditions in the Yuba River in order to eliminate the risk of extinction and provide the ecological and cultural benefits to our watershed which are associated with healthy native fish populations.

What is SYRCL doing now to help salmon and steelhead?

The Yuba Salmon Now Campaign envisions a day when wild salmon swim freely from the summit to the sea― liberated from the threat of extinction and restored to their ecological prominence in our natural heritage―and once again provide jobs, world-renowned fishing, and a source of healthy food. Through advocacy, science, restoration and education programs, SYRCL leads a comprehensive effort to recover salmon and steelhead populations for the Yuba River watershed. Today, SYRCL is working on more than 250 acres to rehabilitate floodplains and side channels for juvenile salmon. In addition, SYRCL sends hundreds of local students each year on a rafting or hiking trip to learn about salmon and the Yuba River watershed. Finally, SYRCL advocates for higher river flows, habitat restoration, fish passage over dams, and gravel augmentation with federal, state, and local agencies.

What still needs to be done?

SYRCL has identified habitat restoration as the #1 way to help fish populations in the Yuba River. SYRCL has created a large-scale land conservation program in the lower Yuba River and works in partnership with agencies to develop restoration projects that would cover hundreds of acres of land.  In the post mining and dam building era, fish populations in the lower Yuba River have continued to decline, and they’re struggling due to extreme drought conditions that may become more common due to climate change. This makes restoration actions and adaptive management of flows more important than ever before.

SYRCL is committed to improving habitat conditions in the lower Yuba River. The lower Yuba should serve as an educational and recreational resource for all who live in the Yuba River watershed. To know more, check out SYRCL’s website yubasalmonnow.org, and our recent E-News article, The Best of Times, the Worst of Times…to be a Yuba Salmon by our River Science Director, Rachel Hutchinson.

What can I do to help?

First, please consider signing our action letter to Governor Newsom. The letter urges the Governor to make restoration on the Lower Yuba a priority, to save salmon populations in Northern California. For additional volunteer opportunities, please join SYRCL as a member and sign up for our e-news today, to receive the latest updates about how YOU can help SYRCL save the Yuba salmon now.