News & Stories

  • Local salmon back on the menu at festival

    August 14, 2018

    Crescent City Triplicate

    Klamath River chinook will resume their place as the stars of the Yurok Tribe’s 56th Annual Salmon Festival on Saturday.

    “We are happy to have salmon back on the menu in our homes and at the Salmon Festival,” Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. said in a written statement. “We invite everyone to the festival, to taste the goodness of the fish and to celebrate the Klamath River.”

    Klamath River chinook were absent from the festival in 2016 and 2017 due to low fish runs, according to a tribal press release. During those years the local salmon population plummeted as a result of juvenile salmon disease outbreaks, excessive water diversions and water quality issues caused by four Klamath dams, according to the release.

    As a result, the tribe canceled its commercial season in 2016. In 2017, the tribe canceled both its commercial and subsistence seasons. Alaska salmon stood in for local chinook at last year’s festival. In 2016 the tribe chose not to serve salmon at all due to low Klamath runs.

    Although it chose to cancel its commercial season for a third year, the Yurok Tribe resumed its subsistence fishery.

    This year, the tribe’s allocation is about 14,500 salmon, fisheries director Dave Hillemeier told the Triplicate in June. The Pacific Fishery Management Council anticipates a spawning escapement goal of about 40,000 fish, Robin Ehlke, the council’s salmon staff officer, told the Triplicate in March.

    Salmon for Saturday’s festival will come from the subsistence fishery, according to tribal spokesman Matt Mais.

    On Saturday, festival-goers will be able to a closer look at the tribe’s efforts to rehabilitate and restore salmon habitat. The Yurok Fisheries Department and Watershed Program will provide folks with a 360-degree view of the tribe’s rehabilitation projects and remote natural landscapes using a virtual reality headset.

    Another new element of this year’s festival includes a presentation by seven expert traditional basket weavers, according to the tribe’s press release. Representing several local tribes, these basket weavers will showcase different types of ceremonial regalia, basketry and other cultural objects constructed from materials from the forest, river and seashore, according to the release.

    Other festival highlights include the Klamath River Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Veteran’s Breakfast, the annual parade, an obstacle course and fun zone for kids, a classic car show and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. There will be a traditional stick game tournament, the Ney-Puey Color Run, Indian Card Game Tournament and the Archie Thompson Memorial Softball Tournament.

    Live music will be provided by Humboldt County rock band Blue Rhythm Revue. Nearly 100 vendors will offer gifts, art and treats, according to the press release.

    The festival begins at 7:30 a.m. with the Veteran’s Breakfast, which is free for current and past service members. Those participating in the Ney-Puey Color Run should meet at 9 a.m. at the Yurok Tribal Justice Center.

    The annual salmon lunch starts at 11 a.m. The lunch consists of a salmon steak, three homemade side dishes and water and is $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and children under 10 years old.

    Events will be held the day before and after the festival, including a reading by Lyn Risling from her new children’s book “Coyote at the Big Time” at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Klamath River Book Nook.

    On Sunday, the Cal-Ore River Racers Association will hold a hydroplane race on the Lower Klamath River at noon.

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  • Klamath, Trinity benefit from fire/More water goes to rivers

    August 13, 2018

    Klamath Falls Herald and News By Will Houston

    One of the unintended consequences of the devastation of Carr Fire in Shasta County is that it has been providing more water to Klamath and Trinity river fish in a time when river conditions have been looking tenuous.

    Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Fisheries Director Mike Orcutt said the dam-controlling U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has nearly doubled flows on the Trinity River since late July. The bureau stated it has been making the releases in order to address emergency operations at the Trinity Power Plant, which had been affected by the fire.

    Flows from Lewiston Dam on the Trinity Reservoir ramped up from what would be its normal 450 cubic feet per second to up to more than 1,200 at some points in time, but has remained steady at around 800 cubic feet per second since.

    “One observation from our fishery here is that probably was really helpful because there was a proliferation of moss and I think it anecdotally moved spring-run fish that would have been holding other places,” Orcutt said. “That added water probably got those springers to move.”

    Smoke effect

    At the same time, the smoke has cooled the waters, Orcutt said, further cooling the waters as the fall-run salmon begin making their way into the Klamath River estuary this month.

    Orcutt said the bureau is set to begin ramping up dam water releases to the Trinity River and lower Klamath River later this month as part of a fall augmentation flow it is required to make as part of its management of the rivers.

    Karuk Tribe Natural Resources Policy Advocate Craig Tucker concurred that the recent emergency flows have been improving conditions on the river.

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  • Wild, Incisive, Fearless

    August 8, 2018

    The Revelator/An initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity By Debra Utacia Krol

    Can saving an endangered fish help heal some of California’s regional water woes?

    Masses of steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) once migrated freely between the sea and river headwaters along the California coast. That began to change about a century ago as dams, stream realignments, bridges, invasive species and degraded estuaries all took their toll on steelhead, putting this intriguing member of the salmon family on a path toward near-extinction. Now a coalition of private and public entities hopes to reverse the trend — and re-invigorate vital watersheds in California’s most densely populated region in the process.

    “It’s not just about water for fish,” says Sandra Jacobson, South Coast director for California Trout, Inc., a state conservation group also known as CalTrout. “Native fish are one of the best indicators of the health of a watershed. If human-caused factors are affecting the fish, it’s only a matter of time before our bays, beaches, recreational venues and even our drinking water are affected.”

    The nonprofit spearheads the South Coast Steelhead Coalition, which aims to protect and restore steelhead populations along coastal waters in San Diego and Orange counties.

    Steelhead, like salmon, return to the headwaters where they were born to spawn. However, unlike salmon, which die after depositing their eggs, a steelhead can survive to restart the cycle, spawning three or four times in its lifetime. These anadromous (oceangoing) fish can also thrive in fresh water, where they are known as rainbow trout. This and their ability to adapt to drought and flood cycles gives them the best chance of survival in California, where flashy watersheds are the norm, Jasobson says. Steeply sloped catchments such as high mountains channel massive amounts of rainwater into a streambed, producing flash floods and creating a temporary superhighway for anadromous fish.

    “The steelhead like these flashy systems,” says Jacobson.

    Steelhead populations dropped so precipitously that the species was listed as endangered in 1997. They’re still very much at risk; in the case of the Southern California coast steelhead, just 500 adult fish currently reach their spawning grounds. And they aren’t alone in their decline. A report released in 2017 by CalTrout and the University of California, Davis, found that if current trends continue, 74 percent of California’s 32 salmonid species will likely go extinct within the next 100 years.

    The South Coast Steelhead Coalition hopes to reverse the trend and create conditions for steelhead to once again thrive. Recovery efforts include reworking waterways under bridges and dynamiting dams to restore the steelhead’s aquatic pathways up into their home watersheds. The project also works to remove non-native aquatic species like bass and sunfish, which compete for food and even eat steelhead eggs, further depleting the population. The project also actively protects native trout by improving habitats through removing excessive vegetation in streambeds, modifying smaller fish passages for increased access, and on rare occasions rescuing trout during extended drought conditions. These steps were included in a plan developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2012 to bring steelhead back from the brink.

    In Pauma Valley, where the San Luis Rey River meanders through north San Diego County to rendezvous with the Pacific, the steelhead coalition concentrates on improving water quality, increasing both groundwater and surface-water flows, and removing the species’ biggest migratory barrier: the waterway underneath the Pauma Creek bridge on State Route 76. The most robust steelhead population lives in the headwaters of Pauma Creek as rainbow trout, and Jacobson says improved water quality and reworking the waterway under the bridge will support this population’s ability to migrate to the ocean and undergo smoltification, the process of transforming into their saltwater-adapted steelhead form.

    The project also will help provide a sustainable water supply for residents in this heavily agricultural valley. Initiatives in the works include installing a weather station and soil sensors on the Pala Band of Mission Indians’ lands, where rains smack into the 6,100-foot-high western slopes of Palomar Mountain and plunge down Pauma Creek to join the San Luis Rey. Heidi Brow, a water resource specialist with the Pala Band, says farmers and residents can access information from the reporting stations to inform irrigation decisions and conserve water. The Pala Band also participates in rainwater-catchment and graywater-reuse programs, further conserving water and reducing groundwater pumping.

    The stakes are high for people as well as fish. Pala’s wells ran dry in 2017 and the tribe had to purchase water from a local water district. Similarly, the five Pauma Valley tribes in the watershed just wrapped up a 50-year lawsuit to restore their water rights, only to encounter a water shortage this year.

    Even as the coalition makes progress, some people aren’t convinced that the steelhead’s migration route can be saved, or that restoring them to their old waterways is cost-effective. “I’d love to have trout swimming all the way up,” says Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians Chairman Bo Mazetti, whose tribe’s land lies along the river. “But realistically, we’ve got climate change and drought occurring and there’s just no way the river is going to run all year anymore. We’re not in the old days any longer.” He’s also worried about the significant resources being spent on the project.

    Jacobson disagrees with Mazetti’s first concern. “The trout don’t need water in the river all year long,” she says. The fish only migrate between December and May, when the river flows all the way to the ocean, meaning drought during summer months probably won’t affect them.

    However, nobody can dispute the hefty price tag for saving steelhead: Pala’s weather stations were partially funded by a $176,000 grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The price tag for just one new fish passage project currently in progress in Ventura County is even larger: it’s expected to reach $60 million by the time it’s completed in 2021.

    Nonetheless, experts say restoring the coastal watersheds that the fish depend on will also help refill some of California’s most depleted aquifers, increasing water supplies throughout the drought-parched region. As Jacobson says, “The fixes we’re working on to save the fish will also help to save the rivers.”

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  • Yuroks cancel commercial salmon fishery, expand subsistence fishing over 2017

    July 26, 2018

    Crescent City Triplicate by Jessica Cejnar

    The Yurok Tribe will have a subsistence fishery for chinook this year.

    But due to a run size that’s still projected to be low, the tribe will hold off on a commercial season for the third year in a row, according to fisheries Director Dave Hillemeier.

    “We’re managing for 40,700 natural spawners, which is the maximum sustained yield (or) our minimum conservation objective for the basin,” he said Monday. “The Yurok allocation is about 14,500 approximately this year.”

    Even though the Yurok allocation is on the small side, Hillemeier pointed out it’s much better than 2017. With a tribal allocation of 650 salmon last year, the Yurok Tribe canceled its commercial and subsistence fisheries.

    According to Hillemeier, the projected run size is expected to be made up of age 3 fish, left over from the collapse last year and in 2016. But, he said, the abundance of age 3 fish is improving.

    “Hopefully we’ll see some 2-year-old fish and have a real fishery next year,” Hillemeier said.

    The tribe’s fall chinook season starts between July 29 and Aug. 1, Hillemeier said. When the number of fish caught by tribal members nears the tribe’s allocation, fisheries staff will close the season down, he said. He said fall chinook typically enter the Klamath system around the second week of August.

    “We base it on allocation size,” Hillemeier said. “We always prioritize subsistence first. If there’s enough to meet subsistence needs and there’s fish left over, that’s when they consider having a commercial fishery. We’re not there this year. We hope that we’ve turned the corner and we’re going to start seeing an increase in the abundance this year and have a more meaningful fishery next year.”

    The Yurok Tribe is expected to receive $3.9 million in federal disaster assistance dollars to help offset the economic impact of the collapse of the 2016 fall chinook fishery run. Congressman Jared Huffman and other lawmakers urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to provide the allocations for fisheries that were declared disasters in 2017.

    Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke expressed gratitude for Huffman’s efforts and said the fisheries disaster dollars will help the tribal community “endure the devastating cultural and economic impacts caused by the fisheries’ collapse.”

    “The Yurok Tribe is working hard to address the factors that led to the steep decline in salmon numbers,” O’Rourke said in a written statement on Monday. “Until the four dams are removed from the lower Klamath River and the water allocation issues are resolved, we will continue to witness these disasters.

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  • Steelhead Trout Fighting for Survival in Our Backyard

    July 24, 2018

    UCSB Geography by Mark Capelli

    “The steelhead trout is a remarkable trout species that lives in both freshwater and ocean environments. Steelhead trout are born in freshwater streams/rivers. They typically spend their first year in freshwater habitats and then migrate to the ocean where they spend most of their adult life. Adult steelhead trout are anadromous, meaning they migrate up freshwater streams and rivers to spawn. Steelhead trout are native to streams and rivers along the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Alaska. Populations of southern steelhead historically existed in all of the larger watersheds within Santa Barbara County.

    The Santa Ynez River is reported to have had the largest population of steelhead in all of Southern California, with estimates of 13,000 to 25,000 adults returning in the 1943-1944 run. Although the range of steelhead trout is still very large, from Alaska to northern Baja, populations in the southern portion of their range have been severely reduced. Since the beginning of the century, it is estimated that steelhead populations in Southern California have been reduced to less than one percent of their former population size. Due to this significant reduction, the Southern California steelhead trout population (which includes Santa Barbara County) has been federally designated as an endangered species by the National Marine Fisheries Service” (source).

    Mark Capelli is the South-Central/Southern California Coast Recovery Coordinator for NOAA’s Protected Resources Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service devoted to recovery of salmon and steelhead. The Protected Resources Division is responsible for conservation and management programs involving endemic and migratory marine mammals and endangered species populations adjacent to California and in the southern and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The Division develops regulations and management measures to protect, conserve, and restore marine mammal and endangered species populations (source).

    As the Steelhead Recovery Coordinator for Southern/South-Central California, Mark is particularly involved with a recovery plan for steelhead runs along the coast. The plan identifies the threats which have brought steelhead to the brink of extinction, sets out a general strategy for recovering the species to allow their removal from the list of threatened species, and describes a research and monitoring program to refine recovery goals and track the progress towards recovery. Priority recovery actions include: Establishing access above impassible barriers (road crossings, dams, debris basins), restoring flow regimes for migration and over-summering habitat, reducing point and non-point pollution sources, developing and implementing a comprehensive habitat monitoring and stock assessment program, and restoring ecological estuarine functions to support steelhead rearing and acclimation.

    The following notes, “Atascadero Creek Steelhead Observation, Santa Barbara, CA,” were recently provided by Mark and are a poignant reminder that steelhead are literally in our backyards, fighting for survival:

    Following a moderate sized rain on March 7-9th, flows in the tributaries to the Goleta Slough (principally, Maria Ignacio, Atascadero, and San Jose) breached the sandberm at the mouth of the Goleta Slough, creating opportunities for winter steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) to enter the estuary and move into upstream spawning and rearing habitat. Several weeks later, on March 18-19th, a pair of adult steelhead were observed in lower Atascadero Creek, below the Patterson Avenue Bridge. A steelhead spawning nest (redd) created by the pair was visible approximately 10 meters downstream of the Patterson Avenue Bridge (Figure 1 and 2).

    The two adult steelhead were observed lying in about 0.75 meter of water near the eastern side of the redd. The larger of the two fish (c. 63 cm) showed some minor fungal growth on the dorsal side (in the vicinity of the dorsal fin). The smaller of the two fish (c. 58 cm) did not appear to show as much fungal growth. Neither fish exhibited any significant fin erosion, though both fish had developed a red band along their lateral line and gill covers (operculum), an indication that the fish had been in freshwater for at least several weeks. Neither fish was active over the redd when they were observed, but they would periodically swim across the redd as they milled in the associated pool (Figure 2).

    Atascadero Creek in this reach is a low-gradient stream with generally slow moving water and few falls or riffles. It has a natural bottom and is vegetated on both banks with a variety of native vegetation, including mule fat, willow, and sycamore. However, there is a concrete drop structure under the Patterson Avenue Bridge, which is approximately 1.5 meters above the current water surface area immediately below the drop structure; additionally, there is a concrete apron that extends upstream approximately the width of the Patterson Avenue Bridge. Under the current water conditions, this drop structure inhibits (and effectively prohibits) the upstream movement of these fish and, most likely, also inhibits the downstream movement of fish from upstream reaches of Atascadero Creek, including both adults and juveniles (Figure 3).

    The Atascadero Creek flow in to the pool below the Patterson Avenue Bridge was approximately 0.5 cfs at the time the observation of the adult steelhead (and juvenile O. mykiss) were made. The water temperature was 14 c., and there was a slight discoloration of the water; additionally, the staff of the Regional Water Quality Control Board reports periodic super-saturated conditions in this reach of lower Atascadero Creek. Preliminary data from the U.S.G.S. gaging station on the Patterson Avenue Bridge (USGS 1112000) reported flows above 200 cfs on March 8, 2013 (Figure 4).

    While recent rain/runoff events may have created conditions which facilitated the upstream migration of these (and possibly other) steelhead from the ocean and through the lower portions of the Goleta Slough, at the time of the observation, the sandberm at the mouth of the Goleta Slough was closed, though the water levels in the slough were near the top of the sandberm. There was evidence of a recent attempt to manually breach the sandberm at the far eastern end of the berm at the mouth of the Goleta Slough, though there was no evidence that this effort was successful (Figure 5).

    Both adult steelhead appear to be in generally good condition, spawned out, and, possibly, ready to emigrate back downstream and out to sea if flow conditions permit and the sandberm at the mouth of the Goleta Slough is open to the ocean. A second, smaller storm event on April 6-7th may have provided an opportunity for these spawned out adult fish to return to the ocean, while additional steelhead were observed attempting to pass over the drop structure under the Patterson Avenue Bridge.

    Editor’s note: A PDF of “A History of Steelhead and Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in the Santa Ynez River Watershed, Santa Barbara County, California,” coauthored by Mark Capelli, can be found here. The Mark H. Capelli Southern California Steelhead Watershed Archive is available in Special Collections at the UCSB Library.

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