News & Stories

  • Lagunitas Creek Spawner Update

    February 10, 2014

    By Eric Ettlinger, Aquatic Biologist, Marin Municipal Water District

    It’s been an exciting couple of weeks in the Lagunitas Creek watershed. In my last update I described how coho salmon spawning had unexpectedly jumped up (so to speak) following a tiny bit of wet weather on January 30. Another small rain event followed that survey, coinciding with an increase in water releases by MMWD, and more spawning ensued. Over three long and wet days last week MMWD biologists surveyed most of Lagunitas Creek, and finished the uppermost section of creek this morning. In total we counted 118 coho salmon and 56 new coho redds. We also counted 118 salmon during the previous week, but it’s difficult to say how much of this coincidence was due to counting the same fish twice. To date we’ve seen 349 coho and 161 coho redds. This is an increase over three years ago, but still far less than the large coho run we were expecting.

    The other big news was, of course, the enormous amount of rain we received. Since Friday the Kent Lake rain gage has recorded over 11 inches of rain, while the gage at the top of Mount Tamalpais recorded over 21 inches! This has helped our water supply situation and has finally allowed salmon to swim into the tributaries. Flows are still too high and turbid to conduct surveys, but later this week we’ll be investigating how many salmon survived both drought and flood to return to these creeks at last.

    Topics: blog

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  • Drought blocking passages to sea for California coho salmon

    February 10, 2014

    By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times

    By now, water would typically be ripping down Scott Creek, and months ago it should have burst through a berm of sand to provide fish passage between freshwater and the ocean.
    Instead, young coho salmon from this redwood and oak-shaded watershed near Santa Cruz last week were swirling around idly in a lagoon. There has been so little rain that sand has blocked the endangered fish from leaving for the ocean or swimming upstream to spawn.

    Scott Creek is one of dozens of streams across California where parched conditions have put fish in immediate danger. With the drought, stream flows have been so low that even months into winter, sandbars have remained closed and waters so shallow that many salmon have had their migratory journeys obstructed.

    To prevent further stress to salmon and steelhead, state wildlife officials have closed dozens of rivers and streams to fishing, including all coastal streams west of California 1. A storm that soaked parts of Northern California over the weekend should offer a short respite, but experts say streams like Scott Creek will need several inches of rain a week to stay open and connected to the ocean.
    Nowhere is the situation more pressing than on California's North and Central Coast, where a population of only a few thousand coho salmon were already teetering on the edge of extinction.
    "This is the first animal that will feel the impacts of the drought," said Jonathan Ambrose, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist who stood at the sand-blocked mouth of Scott Creek to offer his assessment Wednesday. "It's going to take a lot of rain to bust this thing open. And if they can't get in by the end of February or March, they're gone."

    Historically, hundreds of thousands of Central California Coast coho salmon started and ended their lives in creeks that flow from coastal mountains and redwood forests to the coast from Humboldt County to Santa Cruz.

    Of those that remain, most at risk are coho salmon from about a dozen streams on the southern end of the species' range in North America. If not for a small hatchery near the town of Davenport keeping the population going and genetically viable, coho salmon would probably already be long gone south of the Golden Gate.

    The Central Coast population of coho has plummeted from about 56,000 in the 1960s to fewer than 500 returning adults in 2009. Over the last several years it has hovered around a few thousand, according to estimates from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

    The population was listed as federally threatened in 1996 and reclassified as endangered in 2005. A 2012 federal plan estimated its recovery could take 50 to 100 years and cost about $1.5 billion.
    "Coho are the fish that are really in trouble in the state right now," said Stafford Lehr, chief of fisheries for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    "Right now, they're cut off in many of the streams. They're stuck in pools," Lehr said. "As we move deeper into this drought, every life stage is going to suffer increased mortality."
    It's not only Central Coast salmon that are in peril.

    To the North, on Siskiyou County's Scott River, more than 2,600 coho salmon returned this winter to spawn — the highest number since 2007 — but they encountered so little water they weren't able to reach nine-tenths of tributaries to spawn, said Preston Harris, executive director of the Scott River Water Trust.

    Topics: drought

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  • Capturing coho in Santa Cruz to save them

    February 7, 2014

     By Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel

    SANTA CRUZ -- Wading into the San Lorenzo River beneath the Riverside Avenue bridge, volunteers string a net across the width of a wide bend. The net is full of holes, but is seen as a barrier against the extinction of one of the Central Coast's key fish species.

    One by one, the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project plucks endangered coho salmon from the water. They will be relocated to a Scott Creek hatchery, part of a man-made correction to address a drought so severe that Scott Creek -- the backbone of the coho population -- is still cut off from the Monterey Bay in the middle of what should be the rainy season.

    "To me, this is significant," said Matt McCaslin as the first coho is loaded onto a truck for transport north. "Just getting one is huge."

    McCaslin, a Salmon and Trout Project board member, directed the effort under guidance from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, whose biologists waded in up to their shoulders to help rescue fish.

    Coho have taken hits in the past, occasionally disappearing from all but Scott Creek. But Wednesday's relocation effort was the first time in two decades fishery supporters have taken such drastic measures.

    Ultimately, volunteers hoped to find three dozen adult coho in the San Lorenzo, once a populous coho run but where they now are rarely found. That changed this year, with coho returning from the sea unable to get into Scott Creek to spawn and turning instead to the county's most urbanized river.

    "They're very integral to our captive brood program. In fact, if the captive brood program fails, they will go extinct," McCaslin said, adding that if left alone in the San Lorenzo, the fish would all die within two months. "This operation here is very, very integral to the whole operation."

    The last several years have not been good for coho, which are born in freshwater streams before making their way to the ocean to later return to their home for spawning. But the low winter rain totals are posing a new threat for coho, which spawn earlier in the year than other salmonoids.

    To catch the fish, volunteers in waders form a line and walk upstream to spook the fish. They string nets across opposite sections of the river, then pinch them together to push coho into a confined area before pulling them out with fishing nets.

    A crowd gathers on the bridge, with a few onlookers clapping when a fish is pulled out, and a louder groan when one gets away. Another volunteer uses a scanner to see if it came from Scott Creek, where many of the hatchery frys are electronically tagged before being released.

    Jon Jankovitz, a district fisheries biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the project is needed to boost future runs and assure genetic diversity in the population. Scott Creek has not been breached, he said, because man-made breaks have led to fish kills in the past.

    "We want the public to know that breaching a lagoon is not the best for the fisheries and it's only in emergency situations that scientists will discuss it. Even in this drought year, we decided we could not do it," Jankovitz said.

    "The species has been at stake for a number of years," Jankovitz added, saying the hatchery and improved ocean conditions have helped, though coho's river environments remain a challenge. "With the drought year, it's really made them take a hit."

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  • Lagunitas Creek Spawner Update

    February 4, 2014

    By Eric Ettlinger, Aquatic Biologist, Marin Municipal Water District

    Finally some good news from Lagunitas Creek! Last Friday MMWD biologists conducted surveys to get a baseline salmon count ahead of a three-day increase in stream flows. This was the last "Upstream Migration Flow" of the season, and we wanted to document how many salmon spawned in response to the extra water. We were blown away to see significant numbers of salmon spawning throughout the creek before the flow even started. Apparently the 0.07" of rain we received on Thursday was enough to encourage coho to finally spawn. In total we observed 118 live coho and 45 new coho redds. So far this season we've documented 252 coho and 103 coho redds. On Friday we also saw seven spawning steelhead and seven new steelhead redds. Finally, during a partial survey of Walker Creek (the next salmon stream north of Lagunitas Creek), we found the first coho redd and coho carcass of the season.

    The Upstream Migration Flow coincided with 0.8" of rain on Sunday, and we'll be documenting the salmon response in Lagunitas and Walker Creeks for the rest of the week. By next week we should have a pretty good idea how many salmon survived the last few months and finally spawned.

    Topics: blog

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  • Scott River salmon face possible relocation

    February 4, 2014

    By Amanda Hinds Doyle, Siskiyoudaily News

    With California continuing to suffer through drought, the Scott River’s Coho salmon may need to be relocated.

    This year’s Coho return to the Scott River is the largest since 2007, according to official counts. An estimated 2,700 Coho passed through and remained confined to the mainstem of Scott River because preferred spawning areas were cut off due to the drought, said Preston Harris, executive director of the Scott River Water Trust.

    Even with French Creek open, surveys are showing the majority of spawning taking place on the mainstem Scott River, Harris said.

    “It’s not the ideal spawning area,” he said.

    Coho will normally spawn in the river’s tributaries, preferring Shackleford Creek, Kidder Creek, Etna Creek, Patterson Creek, Sugar Creek, Mill Creek and French Creek, according to Harris.

    The drought is changing all that, Harris said. The Coho are now spawning in areas already full of incubating Chinook. This becomes problematic when the salmon begin to emerge, he said.

    “What we have are millions of Chinook fry emerging and then a few months later, millions of Coho fry emerging. So, you are going to have millions of fish in a very condensed area under low flows,” Harris said, adding that the conditions could then lead to overcrowding, disease, predation and a battle for food.

    To alleviate the conditions, relocation assistance may be necessary, Harris said.

    To accomplish that, various groups – the Scott River Water Trust, the Siskiyou Resource Conservation District, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Karuk Tribe fishery biologists, farmers, ranchers and several others – are working together to devise a plan.

    For now, Harris said, the plan is to monitor water flows.

    He said a relocation plan is still being hashed out. “That is still in development,” he said. “It all depends on what the water flow is doing.”

    Adding to concerns for the Coho is the fact that the drought hit during a year of big returns. Harris said that happens every three years.

    “That is why this is so important,” he said. “The goal is to keep this current stock alive.”

    Gareth Plank, owner of Scott Valley Ranch, agrees with Harris. “We want to see those fish survive,” he said.

    Harris said this is a chance for the community to come together to solve a problem, setting all differences aside. He said they are trying to save the stock that will return in 2017.

    When contacted, The California Department of Fish and Wildlife declined to comment on its plans for are location process.
     

    Topics: drought

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