The Trinity and Klamath Rivers in northern California once teemed with bountiful runs of salmon and steelhead. Historically, hundreds of thousands of salmon and steelhead would enter the Klamath estuary and migrate upstream during several months of the year. Today’s runs are much smaller, and are primarily fish of hatchery origin.
Both then and now, after traveling through the lower 44 miles of the Klamath River, many of these fish turned south at the confluence of the Trinity River and continue their journey to the middle and upper Trinity River. Adult salmon and steelhead spawned in the clean gravels of the mainstem Trinity and several of its tributaries. Millions of young salmonids would then emerge from the gravel between January and June and rear in the diversity of habitats found in the river. The young of some species would begin their downstream migration to the Pacific Ocean within a few months of emerging from the gravel where they were spawned. Others remained in the river for a year or more before beginning their downstream migration. Since construction of the dams, hatchery operations have substituted for these phases of the life cycle. All of these fish grew as they moved downstream through the Trinity, lower Klamath Rivers and Klamath estuary, undergoing physiological changes in preparation for life in the ocean. Suitable habitat and water quality were critical for the young salmon and steelhead during every stage of their outmigration in order for them to grow and become physically able to tolerate the transition to ocean life. After several years in the ocean, the fish returned to the Klamath River as adults and began the upstream migration to the Trinity River to spawn in their natal streams.
These impressive fish stocks defined the life and culture of the Hoopa Valley and Yurok Indian Tribes, and restoration of these resources is part of the federal trust obligation to ensure meaningful tribal fishing rights. The abundance of the region’s fishery resources also helped support the economy and way of life for the people of the region as a whole, and remains an important concern to commercial and sport fishing interests, as well as the growing recreation and tourism industry.