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."
Fishing may be banned on Russian River (w/video)
January 30, 2014
By Mary Callahan, Press Democrat
California fish and wildlife officials may move next week to close the Russian River to fishing because of the impact of drought conditions on water levels and threatened migratory species.
The proposal, which appears to be unprecedented, is slated to be taken up Wednesday by the California Fish and Game Commission.
If approved it would shut down the river's main stem to anglers through April 30 from Jenner to just north of Ukiah.
Officials with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife are recommending the move as part of a package of emergency regulations to help lessen the threat to fish already struggling to survive and spawn in extremely low-flow conditions around Northern and Central California.
The appointed five-member commission, which meets in Sacramento, can approve, ignore or alter the proposal.
“We can't make it rain,” but reducing the pressure of continued fishing may encourage survival against the odds, department spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said.
She said the measure was aimed especially at protecting adult fish attempting to move upriver to spawn.
The proposal has drawn mixed reaction from anglers, though they generally support it. Some say the critically dry conditions and confined fish have given them more than enough reasons to pull their lines.
Others say the complete ban unnecessarily restricts those going after hatchery-raised steelhead, which are raised to provide a sport fishery.
“On one hand, it would do the fish a lot of good to have no pressure on them, especially in the low water situation,” said Bruce MacDonell, president of the roughly 80-member Russian River Wild Steelhead Society, whose mission includes enhancement of the river ecosystem. “On the other hand, our system has two hatcheries built on it, as you know, as mitigation, and they make fish for sport fishing. So where do you draw the line?”
Calif. bans fishing in drought-stricken streams
January 29, 2014
The Sacramento Bee by The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO -- California on Wednesday banned fishing in some of the state's drought-stricken streams 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 and its tributaries in Santa Cruz County; the Big Sur River and area streams; the Eel River in Humboldt County; and others.
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.
California drought threatens coho salmon with extinction
January 28, 2014
SF Gate by Peter Firmrite
The lack of rain this winter could eventually be disastrous for thirsty California, but the drought may have already ravaged some of the most storied salmon runs on the West Coast.
The coho salmon of Central California, which swim up the rivers and creeks during the first winter rains, are stranded in the ocean waiting for the surge of water that signals the beginning of their annual migration, but it may never come.
All the creeks between the Golden Gate and Monterey Bay are blocked by sand bars because of the lack of rain, making it impossible for the masses of salmon to reach their native streams and create the next generation of coho. The endangered coho could go extinct over much of their range if they do not spawn this year, according to biologists.
"It may already be too late," said Stafford Lehr, chief of fisheries for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "The Central Coast coho could be gone south of the Golden Gate."
The situation is bad even in the one place fish can get upstream, in West Marin County. Very few coho have been seen in Lagunitas Creek, long considered a bellwether of salmon health in the region, according to Eric Ettlinger, the aquatic ecologist for the Marin Municipal Water District.
Attempt to lure the coho
The dire situation prompted the district to release 29 million gallons of valuable drinking water from Kent Lake early this month in an effort to lure the coho into the watershed, which winds 33 miles through the redwood- and oak-studded San Geronimo Valley on the northwest side of Mount Tamalpais.
Watershed biologists in Marin have counted only 57 coho redds, the word scientists use for the clusters of pink eggs that salmon lay in the gravel. That's "exceptionally low for mid-January," Ettlinger wrote in his weekly spawning update. More than 100 redds were counted last January in Lagunitas Creek, where many thousands of fish once spawned until seven dams were built in the watershed to supply Marin with drinking water.
Swimming for their lives
January 25, 2014
Recordnet.com by Alex Breitler, Staff Writer
More than 20,000 salmon splashed up San Joaquin Valley streams to spawn last year, a relatively robust return that you'd think would bode well for future populations.
But now biologists are worried that the offspring of those fish will not survive, because there's simply not enough water to flush the babies back downstream toward the ocean.
And if they don't make it out alive, that means fewer adult salmon returning to our rivers three years down the road.
It's a problem faced by wildlife managers up and down parched California. Salmon have survived droughts like this for millennia, but only in the past century did dams block access to hundreds of miles of cold-water streams that once provided a kind of refuge for fish during dry times.
Officials managing the Mokelumne River are considering trapping the young fish, putting them in tanker trucks and transporting them downstream past the Delta, perhaps releasing them somewhere around Sherman Island.
That strategy is not unheard of, but it does show how concerned experts are about the salmon's survival.