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Salmon spawning runs under way on the Russian River

  • The first chinook salmon of the 2011 spawning runs passes cameras at the Wohler/Mirabel inflatable dam on the Russian River. The time stamp marks the start of the run Sunday. (Sonoma County Water Agency photo)

The first chinook salmon of the year has passed through the Sonoma County Water Agency's fish ladder in the Russian River near Forestville, the beginning of what is expected to be a good salmon run.

The chinook, a threatened species, was photographed at 8:39 p.m Sunday and was estimated to be about two feet in length.

“From what we have heard, it should be a good return year, there have been good ocean conditions,” said Dave Manning, the water agency's principal environmental specialist.

“Now is the time when we get an indication from other rivers around the region. We have heard on the Eel River they are seeing good numbers of fish and the same on the Klamath,” Manning said. “We may be enjoying a pretty good return this year, but it is far too early to tell.”

The water agency has two fish ladders at Mirabel Beach, where the agency has an inflatable dam that creates a pool of water to feed its water supply pumping system. The dam is up until the rains make the river too high, which is usually in mid-December.

The ladders have cameras to record the chinook, coho and steelhead that start heading upstream to spawn in the fall.

Last year, there were 2,414 chinook salmon captured on camera, but because early season rains caused the water to be cloudy, Manning thinks another 1,000 fish passed through the ladders but were not counted.

Manning said that is considered a good run of chinook.

The highest count in the 12 years the agency has been photographing the fish was in 2003, when 6,103 were recorded. The low was 2008, when 1,125 were seen.

The water agency has biologists that review the images from the cameras on a daily basis.

Chinook typically start showing up in the river about mid-September, with the majority of the run from mid-October to mid-November.

Fishing for salmon is not allowed in the Russian River, but this year there was a Pacific Ocean salmon season.

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