Press release from the Yurok Tribe:

Today, following the discovery of a significant number of salmon infected with the deadly parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis or Ich and at the request of the Yurok Tribe, emergency flows will be sent down the Klamath River. 

On Monday, September 15, the Yurok Fisheries Program, along with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s California-Nevada Fish Health Center examined several Klamath River Chinook salmon and confirmed the presence of the deadly parasite, which was responsible for the 2002 fish kill.  

Ich was found in 11 of the 26 fish that the Yurok Fisheries Program sampled yesterday. Six of the salmon were severely infected with the ciliated protozoan parasite. This is the first time Ich has been detected since the Yurok Fisheries Program began monitoring for it in 2003, following the 2002 fish kill The prevalence of Ich exceeded a threshold identified by USFWS/NMFS during 2013 for releasing emergency flows to prevent a major disease outbreak. BOR’s decision today to double the flow in the Lower Klamath will help minimize the risk of a major fish kill.

“While there has not been a confirmation that any fish have died as a result of Ich, we are extremely concerned that there could be another fish kill in the coming weeks if additional flows are not released. We appreciate that the Bureau of Reclamation heeded our request to send emergency flows down the Klamath River,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr.

If the additional flows were not released back in August, it is highly likely there would have already been a massive fish kill on the Klamath River.

Last Friday, the Yurok Fisheries Program hand-delivered slides, made from imprints of the gills of salmon believed to be sickened by Ich, to the USFWS Fish Health Center in Anderson, Ca. Over the weekend Fisheries crews continued to collect fish, many of which later tested positive Ich. On Monday, the Fisheries Program and Dr. Scott Foote from the center examined the 26 fish for Ich.

“This quick response from the BOR and USFWS Fish Health Center will greatly lessen the chance of another fish kill,” Chairman O’Rourke said.

The Yurok Tribe will continue to monitor fish health in the Lower Klamath River until the fall run has subsided.

Ich outbreaks are the result of a combination of three factors, which consist of low flows, warm water and high fish densities. The Klamath River Basin is suffering through three years of extreme drought and is seeing a larger than predicted run of salmon in a relatively low flowing river.

Prior to this year’s fall run of Chinook salmon, the Yurok Tribe, anticipating unhealthy river conditions that could trigger a fish kill, submitted two formal request to the Secretary of Interior asking that additional flows be sent down the Klamath River from August 26 to September 21. Originally, the BOR declined to implement the Yurok Tribe’s proposal for additional flows to lessen the likelihood of another fish kill. At the Yurok Tribe’s request, the BOR reconsidered its decision to not provide these additional flows from August 23 – mid-September to protect fish.

“We are glad that BOR reconsidered our request and most likely the earlier releases prevented a large-scale fish kill similar to what took place on the Yurok Reservation in 2002” Chairman O’Rourke said.

Based on the observations of Yurok fisheries biologists and tribal fishers, it is likely that this year’s run of Chinook salmon was substantially under predicted. During crowded conditions, such as during a large escapement year, Ich is more readily passed from one fish to the next. In order to reduce fish densities and the chance of another catastrophic fish kill, the Yurok Tribe plans reopen the subsistence fishery for two weeks, with a 2-day closure each week for the protection of Coho.