Chinook salmon returning to urban streams in record numbers, but poachers are on the prowl

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SALMON SWIMMING UPSTREAM – Big Chinook salmon are appearing in large numbers in urban creeks such as Marsh Creek near Oakley. Photo courtesy of Bud Chaddock.
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BY DAVE HURLEY

OAKLEY – As if fall-run Chinook salmon didn’t have enough challenges already with dismal escapement numbers resulting in the closure of commercial and recreational salmon season in 2023 and most likely in 2024, salmon returning to urban streams are facing another hurdle, poaching.

The combination of high water conditions, trucking salmon to release at the Golden Gate, and stream conservation are possible factors in the return of spawning salmon to small creeks in urban areas. Bay Area waterways are experiencing a resurgence of large Chinook salmon in creeks stretching from San Antonio in Oakland, Walnut Creek, Marsh Creek in Oakley, Alameda Creek in Fremont, Pixley Creek north of Stockton, Los Gatos Creek, and the Guadalupe River in San Jose. Cleanup efforts from various organizations have created improved conditions, attracting salmon to spawn, and there is increasing evidence that the spawning fish originated in the small streams.

HOOP NETS FAR FROM THE SALT – Hoop nets are only one of the capture methods used to poach salmon in urban streams. Photo courtesy of Bud Chaddock.

There is an ugly side to this feel-good story as poaching has been rampant in many, if not most, of the small streams. With the proximity to urban life along with the shallow water levels in the streams, salmon are vulnerable to poaching. Bud Chaddock, Western Outdoor News columnist, has been monitoring conditions on Marsh Creek near Oakley, and he and his friends have been walking the creek, removing hoop nets, volleyball nets, submerged shopping carts, and make-shift dams designed to trap salmon. The perpetrators appear to be composed of two different groups, local unhoused individuals along with those poaching the salmon for their roe for sturgeon bait. He said, “There were two big salmon with orange crankbaits in their backs from snagging, and a carcass with its eggs removed along the shore. There have been salmon over 25 pounds trying to spawn, but it is near impossible with all the human interference.” Chaddock has organized volunteers to walk the creek as well notifying Fish and Wildlife and local law enforcement. Poaching salmon also been reported in the small creeks north of Stockton such as tiny Pixley Slough by snaggers.

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As if California’s salmon didn’t face enough hurdles from pollution, lethal hot water in the upper Sacramento River, sea lions, and predation from birds and other fish, poaching in urban creeks is just another nail in the coffin for fish dying for the survival of their species. If poaching is witnessed or suspected, a call to CalTip at (888) 334-2258 is the minimum action.

GUTTED – Chinook salmon are being killed and gutted for their roe in urban creeks. Photo courtesy of Bud Chaddock.
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