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Visiting Fish Hatcheries, Statewide Hunting Opportunities
California Outdoors 11-22-23
Hunters are shown in a duck blind; there are two free hunting days offered during the license year, one in the fall and one in the spring. CDFW Photo

Best Time to Visit Nimbus Hatchery

Q: Is this the best time of the year to watch salmon spawning at Nimbus Hatchery, east of Sacramento?

A: November is the start of a four month stretch when the Nimbus Fish Hatchery is most busy, with Chinook salmon returning up the American River for about two months, and then steelhead trout make that trip in January and February. This hatchery is one of 21 operated by CDFW and it attracts the greatest number of visitors – about 65,000 people annually in addition to about 10,000 children on field trips.

CDFW Interpretive Services Supervisor Laura Drath said the hatchery is back to full strength after the pandemic, meaning all tours and public spaces are available. The list of activities includes play areas for children and a preschool story and craft program called Tot Time on Sunday mornings. Visitors can feed fish in the raceways, then walk along the river bluff to see salmon in their natural habitat. Finally, it’s also possible to watch as fish filled with eggs make their way up the fish ladder to the processing room where hundreds of thousands of eggs are extracted and then raised on-site until they’re large enough for placement into the river. The Nimbus Hatchery produces about 4.5 million Chinook salmon and 430,000 steelhead trout each year.

This hatchery is widely visited and visitor-friendly because it’s located so close to a populated urban area (about 20 miles east of Sacramento). Drath said this facility is in a great position to represent the important work being done by CDFW.

The Nimbus Fish Hatchery is open to the public every day of the year except Christmas Day (rain or shine).


Free Hunting Days

Q: When are the next California Free Hunting Days?

A: Under state law the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director designates two Free Hunting Days. In this license year, they are Nov. 25, 2023, and April 13, 2024. On these days, eligible California residents may hunt without purchasing a California hunting license, provided other requirements are met.

Those requirements include proof of completion of a hunter education course, possession of a valid Free Hunt Days Registration and any required tags, federal entitlements and entry permits. All hunting participants in Free Hunting Days must be accompanied by a hunter at least 21 years of age who possesses a valid California hunting license.

The dates were chosen intentionally to provide the widest variety of hunting opportunities and options for people trying hunting. On Nov. 25, waterfowl seasons and many upland game seasons, from rabbit and squirrel to dove, pheasant, quail and fall wild turkey will be open in various zones throughout the state. April 13, 2024, was chosen with two other popular species in mind, wild pig and wild turkey. More information is available at CDFW’s Free Hunting Days webpage.


Oil Spill Fingerprints

Q: Can CDFW track down the source of a mysterious oil spill?

A: Within CDFW is the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR). That’s where the Petroleum Chemistry Lab (PCL) has a staff of chemists whose primary task is determining where spilled oil came from. Hundreds of oil spills or leaks occur in the state annually, with incidents ranging from tanker truck rollovers to pipeline leaks to natural offshore seeps. When it’s not obvious which company or facility is the source of a spill, the PCL steps in.

Petroleum is a mixture of thousands of individual components that indicate the geographic location, age, thermal characteristics and organisms of a geologic oil reservoir. These factors create unique signatures or fingerprints that help chemists identify one oil sample from another. When oil is collected by CDFW during an investigation, OSPR’s scientists can identify the source of that spill by comparing the fingerprints to samples from the most likely potential sources. That work can lead to the collection of fines and even criminal charges in cases when the responsible party isn’t admitting fault. The PCL is one of just a handful in the country doing this work.