News & Stories

  • Fishing the North Coast: Klamath salmon on the rebound

    February 21, 2018

    Eureka Times Standard

    We’ve got a long way to go, but it looks like the worst may be over for the run of fall kings on the Klamath. In 2016, the number of returning Fall Chinook adults to the Klamath River was estimated at 27,353. At the time, those were the lowest returns ever recorded. In 2017, CDFW predicted the numbers would go even lower. Only 18,410 kings were predicted to return, prompting a full closure of the fall season on the Klamath. North Coast ocean anglers also took a hit.

    Both the California and Oregon Klamath Management Zones (KMZ) were closed to recreational salmon fishing in 2017 due to the Klamath’s low returns. According to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which released its “Review of 2017 Ocean Salmon Fisheries” document on Feb. 15, the 2017 preliminary postseason river run size estimate for Klamath River Fall Chinook was 31,838 adults, a 42 percent increase of what was predicted. The escapement to natural spawning areas was 18,514 adults, which was 163 percent of the preseason prediction of 11,379 adults.

    Based on the 2017 returns, it looks like the stocks are rebuilding a year ahead of schedule. The estimated hatchery return was 11,213 adults. Jack returns to the Klamath Basin totaled 21,903 including 16,522 that escaped to natural spawning areas. The average number of jack returns over the last five seasons is 13,398, so these are huge improvements and a good indicator of the number of three-year old’s that are in the ocean and could potentially return to the river next fall.

    Spawning escapement to the upper Klamath River tributaries (Salmon, Scott, and Shasta Rivers), totaled 6,894 adults, up from 5,462 in 2016. The Shasta River has historically been the most important Chinook salmon spawning stream in the upper Klamath River, supporting a spawning escapement of 27,600 adults as recently as 2012 and 63,700 in 1935. The escapement in 2017 to the Shasta River was 3,287 adults.

    Escapement to the Salmon and Scott Rivers was 1,338 and 2,269 adults, respectively. According to the report, the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes shared a federally-reserved right of 50 percent (814) of the available harvest surplus of adult Klamath fall Chinook.

    Tribal adult harvest was 1,876 (Yurok: 216 adults; Hoopa Valley: 1,660 adults), which was 230 percent of the tribal allocation. The river recreational fishery for fall Chinook in the Klamath Basin was closed in 2017. However, 71 fall Chinook adults were estimated to have been harvested, almost entirely during the spring Chinook fishery. We’re not out of the woods by any means, but the numbers are now headed in the right direction. The hope is we’ll have some sort of fall quota for the Klamath Basin, and the recreational ocean salmon anglers will get some time on the water as well.

    Next up is the annual Ocean Salmon Information meeting, which will be held March 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency office located at 404 Aviation Blvd. in Santa Rosa. Ocean abundance will be discussed, which will then trickle down to river quotas.

    The weather ahead

    “The general weather pattern for the next week will remain the same, storm patterns will be coming out of the north with low elevation snow,” said Ryan Aylward of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “On Thursday, we’ll see a little precipitation. Most will fall in the mountains, where we could see close to a half-inch. We’ll see a couple tenths closer to the coast. Snow levels will be down to 1,000 feet. Friday is looking clear, with a weak system forecasted for Saturday. Snow levels will be between 1,500 and 2,000 feet, with the Smith River predicted to rise about a foot from the rain and snow melt. Another system will roll through on Sunday, and it’s looking a little more wet. The models are calling for three-quarters of an inch in the mountains of Del Norte, and a half-inch at the coast. Only a couple tenths are predicted for the Eureka area. Lingering showers are forecasted for Monday, we should see another couple tenths of an inch. Right now, Tuesday and Wednesday are looking dry.”

    Leader Length Restriction upcoming

    A reminder that the new leader length restriction will go into effect on March 1. The regulation states: It shall be unlawful to use any configuration of fishing tackle in anadromous waters unless the distance between the terminal hook or terminal lure and any weight attached to the line or leader, whether fixed or sliding, is less than six feet. For purposes of this section, “weight” includes any product used to submerge the line or leader, including non-buoyant artificial flies or artificial lures, but does not include integrated or sinking fly fishing lines, lead core lines used while trolling from a boat, dropper weights used while trolling from a boat, or clipped weights used with downrigger systems.

    The Rivers:

    “The Chetco fished decently during Monday’s winter weather, with some boats hooking up to four fish,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Things had slowed again by Tuesday. The freezing weather and snow has caused the river to drop even more. This weekend’s storm should provide relief to the low, clear conditions.” Fishing has been slow on the Elk and Sixes. The Elk has remained around three feet according to Martin.

    The Smith River remains low and clear and conditions are tough reports Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. He said, “Boats are getting a couple chances per day. There’s pods of fish in the river, just getting them to bite in the cold and low water is tough. We’re seeing quite a few fish spawning in the upper river, which is good. A few downers have been reported up high as well.

    The main stem of the Eel River is dropping and getting clear, but it’s the best game in town. Boats drifting from the forks to the lower river are averaging three to four fish per trip. Fish are coming on both yarn and bait as well as plugs. There’s some nice adults in the mix as well as a good number of half-pounders. Flows were right around 1,700 cfs as of Wednesday.

    According to Darren Brown of Brown’s Sporting Goods in Garberville, the Eel River (south fork) is low and clear. He said, “Most of the anglers are down on the main stem, there’s a few guys around here, but not many. With the water conditions, you’ll need to cover some ground.” Flows are just over 300 cfs as of Wednesday.

    The Van Duzen River is low, hovering just above 200 cfs on Wednesday. Bank anglers are catching a few, but getting a little too low to drift.

    The Mad River is still in good shape, but the fishing has slowed down from last week reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “The water has some color, but it is starting to clear. We’ve got a little rain and snow melt coming through the weekend, so the bump in the flows should help. There’s still plenty of fish in the river, but they’re scattered. We’re starting to see a bunch of three- to five-pound wild fish around now, but there are still a few hatchery fish in the mix. Fishing pressure has tapered off quite a bit,” added Kelly.


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  • Tracking Salmon Migration Through Music

    February 21, 2018

    OPB by Courtney Flatt

    Salmon researchers are turning to sound to learn more about the fish they’re trying to understand.

    There is a lot of data about salmon out there, and that data is complex and hard to process. But researchers hope setting fish migration patterns into notes and tones can make it easier to analyze.

    Jens Hegg with the University of Idaho is the lead author of a study published in Heliyon. He wanted to distill the databases of salmon migration down to something that your brain can process more easily.

    “It gives us this way to really explore the data before analysis and really figure out what’s going on with the fish — in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see,” Hegg said.

    The human mind processes sound differently, he explained; it’s easier to hear the complicated sounds than if you had to analyze complex charts and graphs.

    Turning data into sound is called sonification. The process has been used to study data from deep space and deep in the ocean. Hegg said this is the first time it’s been used to study salmon migration.

    To make the sounds, researchers had to figure out the migration timing. They used chemical data in the salmons’ ears. The fish have bones in their ears called otoliths that store chemical information about where fish are — and when they swim through each place.

    “It’s a temporal record. It’s their chemical record in these tree-ring-like bands inside their ear bone of the chemistry they experience,” Hegg said.

    Composers working at Eastern Washington University, the University of Tampere in Finland and the University of Virginia turned that information from the ear bones and into sound.

    “Otolith data, that’s huge,” said Jonathan Middleton, professor of composition and department chair at Eastern Washington University. “Jens was sending me Excel sheets that were so long, I didn’t even know where I was in them.”

    It took quite a long time — years — and a lot of back and forth for Middleton and his grad students to finish the composed piece. Middleton has worked with data sonification since 2005 and has developed software to help researchers turn their data into sound.

    “There are so many areas in science to explore by hearing data, and it just requires more collaborations of this kind,” Middleton said.

    This project studied 45 fish. Each fish was assigned a tone. A bell rings to represent each salmon moving downstream.

    Layered together, the sound becomes messy as more and more fish get on the move. Toward the end of the track, the tones calm down. The last few fish left in the Lower Snake River head toward the ocean.

    Hegg found people were able to hear when the sounds changed. The researchers asked people if they could hear the differences in pitch and tone as they played the sonification.

    “People are very attuned to changes in pitch and changes in timing, and they were all able to pick out those transitions,” Hegg said.

    They found that the listeners as a group were more accurate in hearing the transitions than when they listened by themselves. People also understood the changes in pitch and tone better when the sound wasn’t accompanied by an animated graphic.

    With the sonification, researchers can see changes in data over large geographies and short time periods.

    Hegg hopes they’ll be able to detect patterns in salmon migrations that they wouldn’t otherwise see from scanning large databases.

    “You can come out with some really interesting findings that make you question: are there better ways to do what we’re doing?” Hegg said.

    Maybe one day, Hegg said, this type of research could be used to figure out why wildlife moves from place to place, especially if those animals have GPS tracking collars. It could also be used in research on other animals that migrate at certain times of the year — like monarch butterflies. 

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  • Farmers, fish advocates team up to save the salmon

    February 18, 2018

    Davis Enterprise By Nina Erlich-Williams

    The winter-run Chinook salmon population continues to hover around historic lows in the Sacramento River, but Sacramento Valley farmers are working together with scientists to grow fish food on their rice fields in hopes of reversing this troubling trend.

    Scientists involved in the project highlighted plans and recent achievements Monday at Davis Ranches in Colusa as part of the annual “Bird Day” event, which celebrates efforts to provide habitat for native wildlife in concert with active rice-growing.

    While farmers have been working for decades to aid bird populations, a new “Fins and Feathers” program is now working to create salmon habitat and fish food on these same farm fields.

    The project — Fish Food on Floodplain Farm Fields — is a partnership among the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, Cal Trout, California rice farmers and water suppliers in Northern and Southern California. The group is using existing fields to “grow” tons of bugs that fish like salmon love to devour.

    “We like to think of these bugs in the water as floating fillet for the salmon,” said Cal Trout senior scientist Jacob Katz. “The fatter these little fish get from the bugs produced on rice fields, the better chance they have to survive the treacherous journey to the ocean and come back to the Sacramento Valley in three or four years as big adults.”

    In just its second year, the program is already yielding results that reveal great potential for increasing the amount of food available to fish populations, including endangered salmon and smelt.

    “The amount of zooplankton and invertebrates (fish food) produced on the rice fields has far exceeded our expectations,” said Carson Jeffres, a researcher with the Center for Watershed Sciences. “We have great hope that this project will serve as a model that can be implemented at a larger scale in the near future.”

    This is the latest effort tied to the Sacramento Valley Salmon Recovery Program, a collaborative effort of farmers, fisherman, conservationists, government agencies and water suppliers that aims to reverse the population decline of the winter-run Chinook salmon.

    Recent surveys are startling, revealing that fewer than 2,000 fish are making the journey each winter from the San Francisco Bay to the upper channels of the Sacramento River. In the mid-1970s, those numbers totaled more than 25,000.

    This isn’t the first time farmers in the Sacramento Valley have stepped up to implement large-scale conservation measures for wildlife. Starting the 1990s, farms like Davis Ranches and River Garden Farms in Knights Landing began working with bird conservation groups and government agencies to make their fields friendlier to ducks and geese.

    That program, which saw farmers managing their lands to create winter wetland habitat by re-flooding their rice fields in fall and winter, helped fuel a recovery in native and migratory bird populations. Now, farmers are finding another use for their fields — feeding salmon.

    “Fish food is made on the floodplain,” Katz said. “These farmers are essentially reconnecting this critical wetland energy source to the river channels where fish can make use of it.”

    Added Roger Cornwell, manager of River Garden Farms, “By borrowing water from the river for a few weeks, and spreading it out over our fields, we are mimicking how water used to flow through the natural floodplain wetlands that once covered the valley floor. When we return the water to the river, it’s supercharged full of fish food.”

    As shallow water sits in agricultural fields, microbes start to breakdown the plants that grew during the previous summer. These broad, shallow puddles also allow algae to flourish. Both the algae and the decomposing plant matter feed the bugs that are a primary food source for fish.

    This effort is crucial because modern development has turned rivers into food deserts for fish. Since European settlement more than 95 percent of the Central valley’s historic floodplains have been cut off from the river by levees. Today, Central Valley rivers are too swift and deep to create the natural flow patterns that are conducive to producing food for fish.

    “We all agree that fish need water. This project acknowledges that they also have to eat,” Katz said.

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  • Steelhead Trout in Santa Ynez Are Getting a $1M Bridge/State Grant Helps Biologists Restore Natural Creek Bed

    February 15, 2018

    Santa Barbara Independent By Keith Hamm

    With $1 million from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife Fisheries Restoration Grant Program, the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board will demolish a concrete-slab where Refugio Road crosses Quiota Creek in the Santa Ynez Valley and replace it with a bridge. The project returns the creek bed to its natural state, improving the migration of steelhead trout. Over the past decade, 7 of the 10 concrete crossings have been replaced in such fashion. The project is slated for this fall. 

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  • Endangered winter-run chinook expand range, giving hope for species

    February 15, 2018

    Redding Record Searchlight by Damon Arthur (Rachel Johnson)

    A lot can be discovered by studying the bones in a fish’s ear, including that winter-run chinook salmon — which spawn mainly in the Sacramento River in the Redding area — have been straying farther from home than originally thought.

    Straying from home may be a good thing in this case.

    The endangered species' expanding range may give it a better chance at long-term survival, according to the authors of a recent paper published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation.

    “Maintaining and protecting a diversity of habitat options can buffer against extinction risk and needs to be incorporated into the winter run conservation strategy,” the paper says.

    More: California salmon lose way after ride downstream in drought

    Fisheries officials have long believed that after the young salmon hatch in the Redding area they make their way down the main stem of the Sacramento River, through the Delta and then out into the ocean.

    But the recently published paper says ear bone evidence shows the salmon have been hanging out in several different tributaries to the river before they make their way to the ocean.

    “We are able to extract the chemical information from the ear bones of these fish and figure out where they are from,” said Rachel Johnson, a research fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who co-authored the paper.

    She said the findings are generally good for the winter-run because it shows they are using a wider range of streams than previously thought.

    “I think there are more opportunities for winter-run than previously thought,” she said.

    Indeed, their study showed a majority of the fish included in their study spent time living in waters outside the main stem of the river, including Battle, Mill and Deer creeks in Tehama County. Some also spent time in the Feather River, American River and southern portions of the San Joaquin Delta.

    The ear bones, called otoliths, accumulate different chemicals depending on the streams where they live, Johnson said. Since each stream has different chemical markers, researchers determined where the fish were living.

    The ear bones are similar to tree rings in that each day they form a new layer composed of the elements in the water, she said.

    More: Visitors get up-close view of fish hatchery operations

    "Because otoliths lay down daily rings, we can measure the chemistry of the layers and reconstruct their movements over the entire life of the fish — from birth to death," Johnson said.

    Federal and state fisheries officials have been working for decades to save the winter-run, one of four salmon runs that spawn in the Sacramento River basin. All the various salmon live three years in the ocean and then return to the fresh water where they hatched to spawn and die.

    The winter-run once spawned in the McCloud River and upper reaches of the Sacramento River, but construction of Shasta and Keswick dams blocked migration to their former spawning grounds.

    The winter-run also have faced other obstacles to survival.

    Because the winter-run need colder water to ensure their eggs and recent hatches survive in the Sacramento River, Shasta Dam operators release cold water from deeper parts of Lake Shasta to keep the young fish from perishing.

    But during 2014 and 2015, some 95 percent of the eggs and recent hatches in the Sacramento River died because there wasn’t enough cold water in Lake Shasta to keep them alive.

    Johnson said she and the other researchers were not expecting to discover the young salmon spending time in tributaries to the Sacramento River.

    The researchers said the larger area where the young fish are living may need to be protected as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act.

    “Failure to protect these key habitats limits recovery opportunities and may increase the extinction risk of Sacramento winter-run chinook salmon that currently rely on non-natal habitats,” the paper says.

    Critical habitat, a term used under the Endangered Species Act, are "specific areas that contain the physical or biological features essential to its conservation," according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

    The winter-run's current critical habitat includes the Sacramento River from Keswick Dam south to the northwest parts of the Delta and then west to the ocean. Mill, Deer and Battle creeks, as well as the American and Feather rivers, are not included in the fish's critical habitat.

    When determining suitable critical habitat for an endangered species, biologists look for areas that provide food and water, shelter and enough room for breeding grounds and population growth, according to the wildlife service.

    Burt Bundy, a Tehama County supervisor whose district includes Deer and Mill creeks, said he has seen plenty of winter-run in Deer Creek but not Mill Creek.

    More: Coleman salmon return may hit record low

    Bundy is also on the board of the Los Molinos Mutual Water Co., which gets irrigation water from Mill Creek. He said he is an advocate for the fish, but is wary of the critical habitat designation.

    During the drought, the water company was praised for agreeing to share water with the Nature Conservancy, which also has a water right on Mill Creek. The two groups said the agreement balanced the needs of farmers and fish when water was scarce.

    But Bundy said naming Mill Creek critical habitat for winter-run could complicate things.

    "It's a big regulatory club," he said of the critical habitat designation. "Bringing winter-run into that mix, I don't think it would be productive."

    The Fish and Wildlife Service is well on its way to planting winter-run salmon into Battle Creek.

    The agency plans to release thousands of the young fish into the creek this spring as part of an effort to develop more spawning and rearing grounds for the salmon.

    There are also plans to re-introduce winter-run back into the McCloud River within the next few years. That would involve capturing the salmon at Keswick Dam, hauling them by truck to the McCloud River and releasing them.

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