Dead salmon are washing up on banks of the American River. It sounds gruesome but it's actually a good thing.
The annual salmon run is underway and the fish have traveled thousands of miles to spawn then die in our waterways.
"Within the last decade we have seen a downward trend," said Department of Fish and Wildlife researcher Jeana Phillips. The DFW keeps a close eye on the salmon population. Every year a team of researchers count dead salmon after they have spawned.
The American River Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Rancho Cordova is full of salmon right now. A number of salmon in the American River were released from the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. Salmon hatch in rivers then make their way to the ocean where they spend 3 to 4 years. When they are ready to breed. Salmon leave the ocean, head back to the area they were born, lay eggs, then die.
"The data from our counts plays a part in setting the limit for how many salmon can be caught.," Phillips said.
Salmon from the hatchery have special information tags implanted in their noses. When the hatchery salmon return and die, researchers look for their bodies along the beach. When they find a hatchery salmon they cut the head off and send it to a lab so the special information tag can be removed.
"Once we cut the head off we throw the body back in the water. " Phillips said. Wild salmon carcass is also counted and returned to the water. Researcher do not remove the head on wild salmon. They are given a metal tag so they won't be counted twice should the float downstream.
The salmons face many challenges on their journey from the ocean to their breeding ground. Predators, dams, pollution and water shortages often kill salmon before they spawn.
"I would be surprised if drought didn't affect the population." Phillips said.
Numbers look promising right now, but it's too early to tell. For the next few months fishing is banned along a 13-mile stretch of the American River outside the Nimbus hatchery. This allows the salmon time to spawn. Visitors are welcome to watch the fish along the bank.