WESPEN Online Order Form print this page
US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: After Hatchery Salmon Spawn, Where Do They Go?

Region 8, January 22, 2013
Coleman NFH staff remove salmon eggs and milt as visitors watch from a viewing platform.
Coleman NFH staff remove salmon eggs and milt as visitors watch from a viewing platform. - Photo Credit: n/a
Coleman staff place the salmon on tubs of ice before they are loaded on trucks to American Canadian Fisheries, Inc.
Coleman staff place the salmon on tubs of ice before they are loaded on trucks to American Canadian Fisheries, Inc. - Photo Credit: n/a
Salmon on ice awaiting to be cleaned and loaded on a transport truck.
Salmon on ice awaiting to be cleaned and loaded on a transport truck. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Cindy Sandoval, External Affairs

Every October, the Coleman National Fish Hatchery (NFH) in Anderson, Calif., opens its doors to thousands of visitors during its annual Return of the Salmon Festival.

Locals and out-of-towners converge on the hatchery to witness the spectacle of Chinook salmon returning to the hatchery after two to four years in the Pacific Ocean. Visitors crowd a viewing platform to watch hatchery staff and volunteers harvest eggs and milt from the returning salmon. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) employees and volunteers also field hundreds of questions about the process, a very common question being, “What happens to the fish after they have been used for spawning?"

Biologists and volunteers, equipped with headset microphones, explain how the fertilized trays of eggs are transported to a different part of the hatchery to be raised and ultimately released back into Battle Creek in April. They also explain that all salmon die after spawning and that these returning fish will not be wasted, but will be provided to members of local tribes or be a source of food for families in need. Employees and volunteers also explain that the donation of salmon does not cost the hatchery any additional funds.

Before the spawning season begins, Coleman NFH Project Leader Scott Hamelberg attends a meeting with Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to ensure that salmon is provided to the local Native American tribes in the area. To secure fish, a contact person designated by BIA or the Redding Rancheria submits fish requests to the hatchery. When these requests are filled, members from the Rancheria or other tribes pick up and transport whole salmon from the hatchery. The remaining fish are transported by an agent or contractor with California Emergency Foodlink. The designated agent has been American Canadian Fisheries, Inc., and that company also fillets and freezes the fish for the Foodlink. Filling of fish requests for the tribes has priority over providing fish to American Canadian Fisheries, Inc.

This year, 77,000 salmon from Coleman NFH – averaging 16 pounds each – were transported to Bellingham, Wash., to be processed into skinless, boneless fillets by American Canadian Fisheries, Inc. Every 10 pounds of fish yields 2.5 pounds of fresh salmon fillets which are returned to California and distributed to food banks through the California Emergency Foodlink, according to Garrett Reynolds with American Canadian Fisheries, Inc. He estimates that 300,000 pounds of fish from Coleman NFH will be donated to food banks this year. Reynolds said the number of fish provided each year varies, but “for over 15 years this process has provided a tremendous amount of healthy food.”

California Emergency Foodlink, the nation’s largest food bank in size and amount of food it handles, estimates an average of 100,000 pounds of salmon meat is donated each year. With good numbers of returning salmon in 2012, that number has tripled. According to the USDA, 3 ounces of raw salmon contains about 17 grams of protein, more than one-third of the daily value for adults and more than the daily value required for children ages one to four. When asked what impact the salmon have, Melinda Annis of California Emergency Foodlink stated, “We want people to know how grateful we are, the salmon is really a boom for the food banks.”

The Service recognizes the importance of the Return of the Salmon Festival as an opportunity for people to learn about the environment and become connected to nature. While most of the public only see the Chinook salmon at Coleman NFH one weekend a year, the salmon raised and spawned by the Service play an important role in California all year. These fish are a major part of many ecosystems including in the river and in the ocean, and lead to millions of dollars of fishing related expenditures in local and coastal economies.The salmon that return to the hatchery serve dual roles by providing the eggs and milt to create the next generation of fish, and through agreements with other agencies and organizations provide a source of protein rich food for tribes and people in need.

Contact Info: Cynthia Sandoval, 916-978-6159, cynthia_d_sandoval@fws.gov