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.
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.
California bans fishing in drought-stricken streams
February 1, 2014
By Staff, Santa Cruz Sentinel
SAN FRANCISCO -- California on Wednesday banned fishing in some of the state's drought-stricken streams, including those in Santa Cruz County, in an effort to protect imperiled salmon and steelhead, which rely on coastal waterways to grow and spawn.
The closures are aimed at protecting as many fish as possible as stream flows dwindle because of the severe drought, said Charlton Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"We fully understand the impact these closures will have on California anglers and the businesses related to fishing in California, and we really feel for them," Bonham said in a statement. "However the science is clear. Two-thirds of the wettest part of winter is now behind us, and conditions are looking increasingly grim."
Among the closures are the San Lorenzo River, the Big Sur River and area streams; the Eel River in Humboldt County; and others.
In addition, the Pajaro River, Aptos Creek and Soquel Creek were all closed, including any coastal stream that contains migratory fish.
Some anglers took the news in stride, saying the long-term health of the environment will benefit fishermen in the future.
"There will certainly be an impact this year on anglers and the businesses that supply them. But anglers would be ill-served in the long run by further stressing the present populations in coastal streams," Marc Gorelnik, of the Coastside Fishing Club, said. "First and foremost, we must be responsible stewards of our state's natural resources."
Most of California is in extreme drought, which led Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency.
The state this week also released a list of 17 rural communities in danger of running out of water within four months.
The sheer number of closures suggests how dire the dry weather has become for struggling populations of steelhead and salmon, both of which live part of their lives in fresh coastal streams and the ocean.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time the department has taken this kind of emergency action," said Jordan Traverso, a department spokeswoman.
Parts of the Big Sur and Salinas rivers were also closed, as well as Pescadero Creek.
The agency also recommended that the state Fish and Game Commission close parts of the much larger American and Russian rivers at the commission's Wednesday meeting.
"Let's just all hope for rain," Traverso said.
Salmon Spawning Rebound Put At Risk By Drought
January 31, 2014
By Jeffrey Schaub, Santa Rosa (KCBS)
SANTA ROSA (KCBS)— Water officials in Sonoma County, concerned about the affect the drought is having in salmon in North Bay rivers, have called for a ban on fishing in the Russian River watershed. The situation is so bad that fish may need to be trucked to spawning grounds.
Sonoma and Mendocino Counties rely on a good amount of their water supply from the Eel River that flows into Lake Mendocino, which is experiencing low levels.
To protect salmon stock in the Eel and Russian rivers, federal authorities reduced flows from the Eel River, affecting drinking-water supplies.
•Complete California Drought Coverage
Grant Davis, General Manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, said they primarily rely on the Russian River and import a portion out of the Eel when available.
Davis said because Lake Mendocino’s levels are so low, barely a fifth of its capacity, the City of Healdsburg and Cloverdale have had to impose mandatory water reductions.
Due to low flows on the Russian River Watershed, mandatory water conservation may be ordered for up to 600,000 in Sonoma and Marin.
Outdoorsmen and others who make their living on the rivers worry about the lasting effects on the industry and the potential of other fishing bans.
Salmon and steelhead trout already have a tough time spawning, but the emergency closures are meant to provide sufficient passage for migrating fish.
“The largest portion of the spawning activity happens in the smaller streams,” said Mike Michalak who owns The Fly Shop in Redding. It claims to be the country’s largest fly-fishing store.
Michalak hasn’t seen water levels this low in over 30 years, but he applauds what the state is doing to protect future populations.
“We, as an example, sold tens of thousands of flys to anglers who were going to fish coastal steelhead. Those are tens of thousands of flys that won’t get sold this year, but so what? That’s too bad for us, but in the greater perspective, it’s what’s best for the fishery.”
However, fishermen aren’t the only ones at a loss for income. Resorts, sporting goods stores and anyone that caters to outdoorsmen are threatened too.
“Those fly fisherman that generally think about small mountain streams had better start thinking about somewhere else,” Michalak said.
And its not just January, February and March he’s worried about, it’s what happens to other wildlife if there’s not enough water?
“What happens to deer season or duck hunting season or any other game?” he asked.
Capturing coho in Santa Cruz to save them
January 30, 2014
Santa Cruz Sentinel by Jason Hoppin
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."