- Associated Press - Thursday, November 10, 2016

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - California’s iconic native salmon, which has been hard hit by historic drought and high temperatures, avoided a third disastrous year, federal officials said Thursday.

The number of juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon spawning on the Sacramento River in Northern California and swimming out to sea has doubled from 2015, and it’s significantly up from the prior year, officials said.

California has experienced five years of drought. The fishing industry and farmers in California’s fertile Central Valley are in a constant struggle over the same river water to sustain their livelihoods.

The fish - federally protected as an endangered species - were bolstered by heavy rainstorms in March, said Maria Rea of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ Central Valley Office.

Storms filled Shasta Lake so officials could hold back cold water behind the dam and release it through the hot months, when young salmon need it to survive in the river below, she said.

Officials note, however, that this year’s run so far is made up of less than half of the 1.1 million counted in 2010 - a sign that they are still struggling.

“It’s too early to declare a huge success,” said Garwin Yip, branch chief for water operations at NOAA’s Fisheries California Central Valley Office.

John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, said the rebound this year is good news.

The salmon industry in California is valued at $1.4 billion annually. It supports 23,000 jobs in California, he said.

Yet McManus said he worries about coming years, when salmon that spawned before in low numbers at the height of drought return.

“What happens next summer?” he said. “We don’t know.”

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