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November 14, 2008

Gigantic salmon found in California river

Based on measurements of the fish, it could have surpassed the current state angling record for a Chinook salmon.

One of the biggest Chinook salmon ever recorded in California was found dead of natural causes in lower Battle Creek near Red Bluff last month. Department of Fish and Game (DFG) biologists measured to estimate what the live weight of the dead fish would have been. A standard size-to-weight formula was used to determine approximate live weight. Based on measurements of the fish (51 inches long), it could have surpassed the current state angling record for a Chinook salmon. It was estimated to have been between five and six years of age.

"I have counted tens of thousands of salmon during my career and this is the biggest I have ever seen," said Doug Killam DFG Associate Fisheries Biologist. "When alive, it could have weighed more than the largest Chinook officially recorded in California, an 88-pound fish caught in the Sacramento River."

The monster salmon was found during a routine fall-run Chinook salmon survey conducted by DFG biologists. Biologists walk through the spawning reach on lower Battle Creek on a weekly basis, recording numbers of spawned-out salmon. Most of the salmon they find weigh between 20 and 30 pounds. The size of this salmon literally stopped them in their tracks. Killam was called and made a special trip to the site with camera in hand to record the size of the fish.

Because Pacific Chinook salmon die after spawning, surveys counting dead carcasses are commonly used throughout the Central Valley to estimate the number of salmon spawning in each stream. These monitoring surveys provide vital information on the number of salmon returning to specific areas, baseline information for establishing sport and recreational fishing seasons, evaluating hatchery programs, and evaluating habitat restoration and improvement projects.

Killam supervises a crew of employees that work year-round monitoring fish populations throughout the Upper Sacramento River Basin. The monitoring projects use state-of-the-art under water video monitoring techniques and traditional walking surveys to gather information. These surveys are cooperative efforts. They involve a number of different state resource agencies along with federal entities and non-profit groups and organizations. Four distinct runs of salmon are surveyed: winter, spring, fall and late fall-run Chinook salmon, and steelhead. The winter and spring-run Chinook salmon and steelhead are listed under the state and federal endangered species acts making information on their population size vital in recovery efforts and for state and federal water management activities.

"Hopefully this fish was entirely successful in passing on its superior genetic potential," said Killam. "This is one of the few bright spots this year for one of California's great sport fish, the Chinook salmon."