San Geronimo homeowners open land to salmon restoration
September 6, 2019
Marin Independent Journal By Will Houston
As homes along San Geronimo Creek face the threat of erosion and coho salmon face the threat of extinction, a series of projects nearly a decade in the making is working to find a win-win solution.
On Friday, crews completed the first of these projects along the creek near the home of 24-year Lagunitas residents Michael Snyder and Carol Stanger. Where tangles of blackberry bushes once hung over a heavily eroded stream bank now sits the smoothed slopes of a new alcove where young fish can take refuge from heavy winter flows.
Nearby, large logs, gnarled clusters of roots and boulders have been bolted down along the creek bed. Young steelhead trout, endangered coho salmon, California roach and three-spined stickleback swam lazily among the new additions. These structures will provide everything from shelter to food to the deep water pools that young fish need to survive to adulthood.
“We never did anything with this. This was just overgrown on the other side and this was the other end of the property,” Snyder said, looking down at his new backyard. “You could never build anything here anyways so what does it matter? From the time I bought it you couldn’t build anything.”
“And now it ends up as coho bliss land,” said project lead Sarah Phillips, the urban streams program manager for Marin Resource Conservation District.
This is but one of several properties in the valley that have opened their lands to restore vital fish habitat as part of the county’s San Geronimo Valley salmon enhancement plan. About 10 projects have been designed under the plan’s landowner assistance program, which started planning a decade ago and works to pair erosion control with salmon habitat restoration.
“A lot of people have done projects on their own property,” said Kallie Kull, senior fish passage planner for Marin County Public Works Department. “…These big projects have taken that long to get designed and funded.”
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. Phillips had been working for the past five years to secure the nearly $500,000 in state grant funds from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Coastal Conservancy as well as matching county funds just for two projects. The projects also required a variety of permits, contracts and donations including logs from the Russian River, excavation work by the Loomis-based Glissman Excavating, state and federal agencies, property owners and local businesses, among others.
The next project set to begin next week will be much more extensive and involves two properties near San Geronimo Valley Community Center. One of these properties has a house just a few feet away from the eroding creek bank.
“So every time we get a big storm the homeowner definitely loses sleep and is worried about how much more the bank is going to retreat,” Phillips said.
San Geronimo Creek is the largest, undammed tributary of Lagunitas Creek. The creeks support about 20% of the wild coho runs between Monterey Bay and Fort Bragg. Decades of habitat degradation, development and dams have depleted the population to the point where they are now listed as endangered.
As human developments were built, the nature of Lagunitas and San Geronimo creeks were altered, giving the water less room to spread out during heavy storms and resulting in swifter, powerful flows during the winter. Through time these high flows have eroded away the banks and scoured the creek bottom, endangering both properties and exacerbating the loss of salmon spawning and rearing habitats.
Marin Resource Conservation District isn’t the only group working on restoring these lost habitats. Next year, the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, known as SPAWN, plans to begin a $150,000 state-funded project to restore a section of San Geronimo Creek that has eroded down to the bedrock.
“There is so much work to be done and one group can’t do all of it so it’s nice to be able to have multiple organizations work collaboratively for the same effort,” SPAWN watershed conservation director Preston Brown said.
By placing large pieces of wood in the creek, which mimics when trees naturally fall into the water, as well as gravel, SPAWN is seeking to rebuild the creek beds and salmon habitat more quickly than would naturally occur.
“Once that happens, that’s three contiguous property owners installing large wood for fisheries, which is a first for San Geronimo Valley,” Phillips said.
Following the salmon to central California
September 3, 2019
Crescent City Triplicate by Jessica Goddard
Fishermen along the California coast boasted boatloads of prized salmon during this year’s season, which reportedly has been one of the better salmon fishing seasons in years.
“It was a good one,” acknowledged fisherman Richard Hagel of Crescent City, “(although) I don’t know if I’d term it one of the best. We’ve had some big years in the past, you know.
“But I would say that in recent history, it was the best season.”
That depends on where you fish, of course. Not every California fisherman got that lucky. Some reported that very few salmon made it to the state’s northern coast. “Nobody seems to understand why, but the fish stayed south,” said Rick Shepherd of Crescent City, president of the Crescent City Commercial Fishermen’s Association.
While salmon generally migrate north, this year they swarmed the areas of Bodego Bay, Monterey Bay and even as south as Morro Bay, just north of San Luis Obispo.
Yet that didn’t stop fishermen to the north from pursuing their catch. Many from Crescent City took boats and crews down south, as if chasing gold. And many of those fared well, catching upwards of 1,500 salmon.
In fact, for the season to really pay off, many fishermen needed to commit to an extended time on the central coastline. Some found it more difficult to stay south, away from their families for longer periods of time. Some struggled to turn much of a profit when fishing the Bay Area, given the high cost of staying there.
“It’s so expensive down there,” said fisherman Karl Evanow of Crescent City, who boated to the Bay Area mid-salmon season. “I mean, you’re almost taking the money from the fish and putting it right back out.”
Still, nearly all agreed that the California coast housed the salmon treasury.
As to why, among the numerous possibilities for the influx of salmon to the south could be heavy rainfall, particularly in 2017, which ended California’s several-year drought. The rain caused rivers to fill and made the salmons migration to the Pacific Ocean easier.
Some credit this season’s success to hatcheries.
CDFW Seeks Information Related to Listing of Northern California Summer Steelhead
August 22, 2019
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking information relevant to the proposed listing of Northern California Summer Steelhead as an endangered species.
Northern California Summer Steelhead occupy a relatively small geographic range in Humboldt and Mendocino counties that includes Redwood Creek and the Mad, Eel, Van Duzen and Mattole rivers. They fill a unique ecological niche, entering freshwater in the spring and early summer and then holding for many months in deep pools high up in the stream systems while waiting to spawn.
In September 2018, the Friends of the Eel River submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission requesting to list Northern California Summer Steelhead as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The petition described threats impacting the survival of the fish, specifically emphasizing habitat loss, alteration and degradation as a result of human impacts.
CDFW recommended that Northern California Summer Steelhead be advanced to candidacy for CESA listing and the Commission voted in favor of this recommendation on June 12, 2019. The official findings of this decision were published on June 28, 2019, which triggered the start of a 12-month period during which CDFW will conduct a status review intended to inform the Commission’s ultimate decision on whether to list the species.
As part of the status review process, CDFW is soliciting information from the public regarding Northern California Summer Steelhead ecology, genetics, life history, distribution, abundance, habitat, degree and immediacy of threats to reproduction or survival, adequacy of existing management measures, and recommendations for management of the species. Comments, data and other information can be submitted in writing to:
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Attn: Vanessa Gusman
830 S St.
Sacramento, CA 95811
Comments may also be submitted by e-mail to email@example.com. If submitting comments by e-mail, please include “NC Summer Steelhead” in the subject heading.
All comments received by Sept. 22, 2019, will be evaluated prior to the submittal of CDFW’s final status review report to the Commission. Once CDFW submits the final status review report to the Commission, it will be placed on the agenda for discussion at the next available Commission meeting. Comments will also be made available to the public at that time.
Following receipt of CDFW’s status review report, the Commission will allow a 30-day public comment period prior to taking any action on CDFW’s recommendations.
The listing petition and CDFW’s petition evaluation for Northern California Summer Steelhead is available at https://fgc.ca.gov/cesa#ncss.
Off the hook: California king salmon rebounds after drought
August 22, 2019
Associated Press/The Washington Post By Terence Chea | AP
SAN FRANCISCO — Trolling off the California coast, Sarah Bates leans over the side of her boat and pulls out a long, silvery fish prized by anglers and seafood lovers: wild king salmon.
Reeling in a fish “feels good every time,” but this year has been surprisingly good, said Bates, a commercial troller based in San Francisco.
Bates and other California fishermen are reporting one of the best salmon fishing seasons in years, thanks to heavy rain and snow that ended the state’s historic drought.
It’s a sharp reversal for chinook salmon, also known as king salmon, an iconic species that helps sustain many Pacific Coast fishing communities.
Commercial salmon catches have surpassed official preseason forecasts by about 50 percent, said Kandice Morgenstern, a marine scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Harvests have been particularly strong in Morro Bay, Monterey and San Francisco, but weaker along California’s northern coast.
“We’re really surprised to be seeing this many fish being landed so far this season,” Morgenstern said.
The salmon rebound comes after three years of extremely low catches that resulted from poor ocean conditions and California’s five-year drought, which drained the state’s rivers and reservoirs.
Over the past several years, regulators imposed severe fishing restrictions to protect chinook salmon, and officials declared federal fishery disasters in 2018 to assist fishing communities in California, Oregon and Washington.
This year’s adult salmon are the first class to benefit from record rainfall that filled California rivers and streams in early 2017, making it easier for juvenile chinook to migrate to the Pacific Ocean, where they grow into full-size fish.
Chinook salmon are also being helped by improved ocean conditions that have produced an abundance of anchovies, krill and other feed. Several years ago, an El Nino event brought unusually warm water to the Pacific Coast and disrupted the marine ecosystem.
“For the salmon fishermen who’ve been dealing with disaster for so long, this is an incredible boon to their livelihoods,” said Noah Oppenheim, who heads the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
The strong salmon season, which typically runs from May to October, is positive environmental news at a time of growing anxiety about climate change. A United Nations report released this month warns that global warming threatens food supplies worldwide.
Morgenstern says climate change is creating greater fluctuations in ocean and river conditions, making chinook fisheries “less stable, less predictable and more challenging for fishery managers.”
Most of the chinook salmon now being caught come from the Sacramento River and its tributaries, where they spawn. Many were raised in state-run hatcheries then released into rivers to swim to the ocean. Harvests of chinook from rivers farther north have not been strong.
For consumers, the bountiful harvest has driven down wild salmon prices to $15 to $20 per pound, compared with $30 to $35 per pound in recent years. Fishermen are making up for the difference by catching more fish.
“The market is dictating right now that there’s a lot of salmon, so the customers don’t have to pay as much,” said Gordon Drysdale, culinary director at Scoma’s, a seafood restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
The wharf is one of many California fishing communities now benefiting from the salmon boom. Pier 45, where boats unload their fish, hasn’t been this busy in many years, said Larry Collins, who runs the San Francisco Community Fishing Association.
“This year started out with a bang, and it’s just kept banging the whole time,” Collins said. “We’re all really excited and happy the fish showed up.”
On a recent morning, commercial fisherman Brand Little, who sells to customers in the Lake Tahoe area, returned from four days of fishing with nearly 200 salmon weighing more than 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms).
“Best trip of the season,” Little said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The salmon boom is also welcomed by sport fishermen and the boat operators who take them out to the ocean.
“When the fish are biting, it’s always good for business for us,” said Mike Rescino, who runs a charter boat. “When the people see the big reports, they’re going to come out and go fishing with us.”
Dam Management Can Help Salmon and Sturgeon
August 19, 2019
Courthouse News Service By Jon Parton
(CN) – Scientists working to preserve endangered fish in the Sacramento River unveiled a new water-management plan Tuesday that might protect the river’s salmon while maintaining a healthy environment for other fish.
As cold water from Lake Shasta releases into the Sacramento River, it creates a better environment for endangered winter-run chinook salmon, but at the cost of harming green sturgeon.
Whereas salmon need colder water for their eggs to survive, young green sturgeon require the typical warmer temperatures of the river to thrive.
In a paper published Tuesday in the Journal of Applied Ecology, scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the National Marine Fisheries Service used statistical modeling to determine an optimal water management plan that would protect both species and ensure other water users would benefit as well.
“It’s a win-win-win here in the sense that we’re not giving up anything to get an improvement for the green sturgeon,” said Eric Palkovacs, senior author and associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. “Currently, the primary management objectives are keeping it cold for the salmon eggs and delivering enough water downstream. As a result, we’ve been refrigerating the river in regions where historically the green sturgeon have been spawning.”
Study author Liam Zarri discovered that water temperatures and discharge rates from the Shasta Dam into the river heavily affected the health of larval green sturgeon.
When a high amount of discharges of cold water happened over the course of a year, survival of winter-run chinook salmon eggs increased while survival of juvenile green sturgeon decreased. In years of drought, with warmer water and low discharge flows, the reverse effect occurred.
Zarri said the key to ensuring both species’ survival was in their different spawn times.
“We’re able to suggest a management scenario which uses the differential timing of spawning in these two species. When they overlap, our model gives us the ideal temperature and flow for when both species are present,” he said.
Zarri proposes that low flows of warmer water, drawn from the surface of the lake, be released in April and May when only green sturgeon spawn and agricultural demand for water is low. Then from July to November, high flows of cold water can be released in order to ensure the survival of the salmon and meet the water needs for agriculture.
“Under the current management, there is quite a long period of cold water releases starting very early in the season before the chinook salmon have really started showing up in earnest. We’re saying that you can wait until the green sturgeon have matured and moved out of the system,” Palkovacs said. “That has a side benefit in drought years, when limiting those early releases saves water for later in the year when it’s more valuable, both for salmon and for downstream water demand.”
The Sacramento River winter-run chinook salmon is one of two chinook salmon species listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Seven others are considered threatened.