Sailor Bar Projects Rev UpAug 31, 2022 12:00AM ● By Story and photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner
Water Forum Habitat Manager Erica Bishop demonstrates gravel sizes preferred by spawning fish.
SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Small boys are rejoicing at the sight of 49-ton bulldozers and rock-laden trucks roaring into the American River near Fair Oaks. But big fish will be the real beneficiaries.
Started this month, a $2 million project continues Sacramento Water Forum efforts to restore breeding habitats for vulnerable fish species. More than 42,000 cubic yards of gravel are being added to Lower Sailor Bar and Nimbus Basin locations. The program is geared to help Chinook salmon and steelhead repopulation.
Human river alterations have threatened these species since the Gold Rush. More recently, dam construction blocked spawning paths and barred natural gravel movement. “The lower part of the American River is gravel-starved,” explains Water Forum Habitat Manager Erica Bishop. “Some salmon and steelhead return to home waters and can’t find a place to spawn. “Though the Nimbus Hatchery has a role in juvenile fish production, the Water Forum’s focus is to help adult salmonids complete life cycles naturally.”
Current projects must be finished before salmon surge home in fall. After the Chinook giants, steelhead will nest in the same areas. “Our work is targeted over time frames least likely to affect migrating fish,” says Bishop. “And although the ongoing drought can make their conditions challenging, we focus on long-term river improvement.”
Steelhead and salmon once swam from the Pacific Ocean via 200 miles of breeding sites. More than 150 years of human development have reduced options to about 12 miles. “Fish can’t build nests among boulders,” notes Bishop. “They need moveable gravel.” To this end, the program includes mechanical selection of many tons of small-diameter stones. Nursery channels will also be built to shelter hatchlings before their Pacific migration.
Similar restorations above Sailor Bar accommodated 1000 new Chinook nests in 2019. New gravel beds at Ancil Hoffman Park last year supplied 30 percent of all American River steelhead breeding. “Results are immediate,” notes Bishop. “We see salmon beginning to spawn as we finish our projects. We know our restored habitats work.”
Sailor Bar and Nimbus projects will wrap by early October. Staging areas are fenced during construction but river access is not restricted. Work will pause to enable weekend and Labor Day recreation.
Water Forum projects are supported by the Bureau of Reclamation, CA Prop 68 funding, Sacramento City and County and signatory water agencies. Learn about the Water Forum at www.waterforum.org