Wednesday, December 14, 2005

American River Salmon

A wonderful story in today’s Bee of human intervention into the ancient ritual of the salmon spawning in the American River, which not only helps overcome the loss of their ancestral run up the river, but recovers them after spawning to feed the poor and homeless.

Salmon give all for their own - and feed needy people, too
Nimbus hatchery helps species survive and is a link in distributing high-quality food.
By M.S. Enkoji -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A tale as old as the sea plays out every year at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, with a little modern intervention: Salmon swim and spawn, live and die - and go on to feed thousands of needy people each winter.

And fertilize a few lawns and feed a few pets as part of the bargain.

"In a sense, none of the fish is wasted," said Bob Burks, a state Department of Fish and Game manager at the hatchery.

In the final days of the spawning season, inside a cavernous building at the Hazel Avenue hatchery, a crew worked with ballet-like precision, hauling in fish, sorting them by gender, then quickly killing them.

The fresh-killed fish slid along stainless steel chutes toward the "spawner," the guy in the raincoat as orange as the glistening eggs scooped from the females. Once extracted, the eggs were fertilized.

In a natural cycle, the fish would die in a river after spawning, withering away in a watery grave. But at the hatchery, a diversion in the natural process ensures that the salmon are killed while they are still suitable for eating, Burks said. Once finished with their propagating duties, the fish, packed in ice, are trucked to a Washington fishery, processed into fillets and flash-frozen. The rest is ground into fertilizer or cat food. Unused eggs are sold for bait.

As much as 125,000 pounds of salmon from six Northern California hatcheries is distributed throughout Northern California every holiday season to charities such as Loaves & Fishes in Sacramento and to 40 Indian tribes.