News & Stories

  • Marin coho see best spawning season in 12 years; record steelhead season forecast

    February 9, 2019

    Marin Independent Journal By Will Houston

    Nearly 12 years have passed since this many coho salmon swam up the Lagunitas Creek watershed to spawn.

    By the end of January, surveyors found 332 redds, or salmon egg nests, and about 664 adult coho in the watershed — the highest count since the winter of 2007-08. While this count is still well below the recovery target of 1,600 redds needed to bring the species out of its endangered classification, researchers are optimistic with the recent trend.

    “This run was 10 percent larger than their parents’ generation, 70 percent larger than their grandparents’, and 40 percent larger than the run of their great-grandparents’ (back in 2009-10),” Marin Municipal Water District ecologist Eric Ettlinger wrote in an update. “Such sustained generational growth is a very hopeful sign for the population.”

    The Lagunitas Creek watershed alone supports about 20 percent of the wild coho runs between Monterey Bay and Fort Bragg. Decades of habitat degradation, development and dams have depleted the population. Both the state and federal governments recognize the Lagunitas coho salmon as an endangered species.

    A 2017 study by the U.C. Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and the environmental organization California Trout on California’s salmon species listed the Lagunitas coho as being at critical risk of extinction — the highest risk category next to extinction — within the next 50 years without “significantly increased intervention and protection of watersheds.”

    Environmental advocates and fisheries biologists are hoping ongoing flood plain and habitat restoration projects in the watershed will help tip the balance in the coho’s favor.

    Lost data

    This year’s Lagunitas Creek spawning data isn’t a complete picture. The recent federal government shutdown resulted in irretrievable coho spawning data being lost.

    Michael Reichmuth is a National Park Service fish biologist who helps survey coho and steelhead in the Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Before their surveying was cut short in late December by the shutdown, Reichmuth and his colleagues counted 107 adult coho and 51 redds in Lagunitas Creek’s largest tributary, Olema Creek.

    Reichmuth said they’re used to seeing around a dozen to 20 adults in the river by that time. Reichmuth said they didn’t see any new coho when they surveyed after the shutdown, but he guessed that the final numbers were double of what they found in December.

    National Park Service surveyors were able to get some help from California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials on surveying Redwood Creek. The two agencies have been releasing coho that were raised in captivity into the creek in the hopes that it might help rebound the petering population. This is the last year these releases will take place. So far, Reichmuth said these efforts have been successful, but that they will continue to monitor.

    About 30 coho redds were counted in the creek and about 88 adults, though some of the adult counts may have been duplicates, he said.

    In their surveys of other Lagunitas tributaries in the San Geronimo Creek watershed, Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, or SPAWN, surveyors found more nests than usual.

    SPAWN’s watershed biologist Prestron Brown said they found 39 redds in two San Geronimo tributaries — the highest count since 2005. Another 79 redds were counted in San Geronimo creek itself — the highest count since 2006.

    “So long as we can keep development low and habitat restoration going, we’ll see these trends continue,” Brown said.

    Steelhead runs

    Steelhead are projected to have their largest run on record this year in Lagunitas Creek, with 65 redds counted so far — a record for January, according to Ettlinger. But counting the fish isn’t so easy, Ettlinger said.

    “Even though they can be up to 3 feet long, they’re cryptic, prefer to spawn in fast water, and don’t stay on their redds very long,” Ettlinger wrote. “Your best bet for catching a glimpse of one is as they jump or swim through shallow water.”

    In the Pine Gulch Creek and Redwood Creek where park biologists survey for steelhead, Reichmuth said they haven’t seen record numbers so far, but that this is the time of year when spawning ramps up.

    “Hopefully we don’t have another shutdown so we can keep going out there,” Reichmuth said. “That way we can at least get a good estimate on the steelhead numbers this year.”

    Coho counts

    Coho salmon redds and adults counted in the Lagunitas Creek watershed from the winters of 1997 through 2019. Adult salmon counts are estimated as double the redd count.

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  • Big showing of American River steelhead excites anglers

    February 5, 2019

    Stockton Record By Dan Bacher

    Large numbers of adult steelhead continue to surge into the American River, the crown jewel of the Sacramento metropolitan area, attracting plenty of anglers in the quest to hook these hard-fighting fish.

    The Nimbus Fish Hatchery has trapped a total of 1,843 steelhead to date, the best showing of fish since 2013. These fish include 933 adult males, 826 adult females, 43 half-pounder males, 26 half-pounder females, four wild adult males and 11 wild adult females, reported Greg Ferguson at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.

    “We’ve taken a total of 870,814 eggs to date,” he said. “During our latest spawn on (January 29), we spawned 24 females and 47 males.”

    With fish and eggs abundant this year, the hatchery staff foresees no problem meeting its production goal of 430,000 steelhead smolts for release in 2020.

    Most of the steelhead showing in the river now are in the seven- to 11-pound. range, with an occasional larger fish showing. The big numbers of steelhead are also drawing crowds of anglers some days to fish the river. That was the case when Doug MacPherson of Sacramento and I fished with Jerry Lampkin of TNG Motor Sports Guide Service in his drift boat from Sailor Bar to Sunrise on January 29.

    “We caught and released two adult steelhead while pulling Hot Shots yesterday,” Lampkin said before our trip. “Craig Newton, the owner of Willfish Tackle in Auburn. hooked an eight-pounder, while Jim Palmus landed a 29-incher.”

    We had five takedowns from steelhead while back trolling with Hot Shots and throwing Little Cleo spoons, but none of the fish stayed on the hook.

    We saw a good number of hook-ups, with some fish landed and many fish lost by the crowd of anglers fishing the river.

    That was the biggest amount of anglers on the river that I’ve seen since 2013, an epic year for steelhead. Fishing buddy Rodney Fagundes and I had one of our best trips that January, hooking 14 fish and landing and releasing 9 steelhead between the two of us one day while using plugs and Little Cleos.

    With the large numbers of fish now showing, we can expect to see steelhead at least into the end of March and probably into mid-April. Information: (530) 320-0994.

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  • Tracking the trout: East Bay biologists, volunteers give spawning fish a leg up/Fish blocked for decades by concrete structure get a lift upstream

    February 5, 2019

    San Jose Mercury News By Joseph Geha

    FREMONT — Over the roar of BART trains speeding along tracks overhead, and the rushing waters of Alameda Creek, it was almost hard to hear the screams of joy let out by a group of people in the waterway when they saw a silvery fish flash along the water line.

    It was a sign that the group — a mishmash of fisheries biologists, preservationists and volunteers who waded into the Alameda Creek Flood Control Channel in Fremont Tuesday to catch, tag, and transport steelhead trout upstream — had not come in vain.

    “I don’t know if it was a steelhead, it was a sizeable fish,” said Joe Sullivan, the fisheries program director for East Bay Regional Park District, who was waist-high in the channel.

    “It skirted up and around our seine,” he said.

    For many years, biologists and staffers from the park district, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the nonprofit Alameda Creek Alliance, as well as volunteers, come to this lower creek area every winter when conditions are right for migratory fish spawning.

    For decades, the steelhead trout and Chinook salmon trying to complete their instinct-driven trip upstream have been blocked by an impassable concrete structure known as the BART weir, which supports the trains overhead.

    When the group catches the fish, both of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, they can radio tag it to study its migration, and release it upstream where the fish can meet others like it and mate.

    “The steelhead have this dramatic, epic lifecycle,” said Jeff Miller, the director of the Alameda Creek Alliance, who was at the creekside.

    “They go out, they make this Homeric odyssey around the Pacific. They dodge orcas, they dodge fisherman, they dodge seals and sea lions, then they have to fight their way upstream, against these flows, then we put all these barriers in the way they have to get past,” he said.

    “We’re just trying to make it so it’s as accommodating as possible for these migratory fish.”

    By midday Tuesday, the group’s haul included just one steelhead trout, but that’s “better than nothing,” Sullivan said.

    “It’s just exciting to see them at all come back to the system,” he said. Before 2017, a steelhead hadn’t been spotted in the lower creek since 2008. But for the past three years, they’ve been seen and captured to be relocated.

    His hope is that the group will be able to do more captures and relocations this year through March and help boost the trout population upstream.

    Within a few years, however, this capturing and relocation may not be necessary as the Alameda County Water District, in conjunction with other public agencies, is investing nearly $70 million in upgrading or replacing rubber dams and building fish ladders and screens to allow the fish to bypass the multiple barriers in the creek.

    Fish ladders are essentially a series of pools that step up gradually around a rubber dam or other barrier. The water district has nearly completed a ladder upstream, close to Mission Boulevard. Construction will start this summer on a ladder to get around the BART weir and the rubber dam just beyond it.

    Officials said the project will be completed by about spring 2022, after which the trout and salmon should be able to make their way upstream in a more natural fashion.

    “It is kind of an interagency, coordinated effort … to ultimately help enhance the population of steelhead,” said Evan Buckland, the water district’s supply supervisor.

    Miller said the trout are a good indicator of how healthy the region’s water system is.

    “If we can keep the creek clean enough and healthy enough for these fish, we’re doing a good job of taking care of the ecosystem,” he said.

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  • Petition to list spring Klamath chinook as endangered considered

    February 5, 2019

    Crescent City Triplicate By Jessica Cejnar

    The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday will consider a petition to list spring run chinook salmon on the Upper Klamath-Trinity River as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

    The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is recommending the Fish and Game commission accepts the petition, which was submitted by the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council in July 2018, according to the commission’s staff report. If the commission determines listing may be warranted, a one-year review of the run’s status will be conducted before a final decision is made, according to the report.

    “UKTR Spring Chinook used to be abundant in the Klamath Watershed and are important to the culture, health and economy of the Karuk Tribe,” the petition’s author, Karuna Greenberg writes. “Their survival as a species in California is threatened due to the destruction of their habitat or range, construction of dams and water diversions, disease, predation, non-existent or limited regulations and other cases.”

    According to the CDFW’s report to the commission, the amount of available habitat to spring chinook salmon in the upper Klamath and Trinity watersheds has been severely restricted by dam construction. The report notes upper Klamath River dams considered for removal in 2021 would reopen historical habitat.

    According to CDFW’s report, the spring chinook population has declined in the upper Klamath-Trinity watersheds, particularly on the South Fork Trinity River and the Salmon River. According to the report, run estimates have ranged between 1,945 and 69,007, averaging 21,339, between 1980 and 2017. Most upper Klamath-Trinity River spring chinook salmon spawn in the upper Trinity River and at the Trinity River Hatchery, according to the report.

    Major threats to the salmon run include mainstem dams, water withdrawals, disease, past logging and suction dredging practices, according to the report.

    Though most letters to the Fish and Game Commission support the Karuk Tribe’s petition to list Upper Klamath-Trinity spring run chinook as threatened or endangered, the Del Norte and Siskiyou County boards of supervisors oppose the proposed listing.

    In a Dec. 11, 2018 letter to California Fish and Game Commission President Eric Sklar, Del Norte County Board of Supervisors Chairman Chris Howard notes the county has been at the forefront of state policies and decisions to eliminate sport fisheries “further eroding Del Norte County’s ability to provide for its businesses and residents.”

    Howard’s letter states a previous listing petition made by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2012 was deemed not warranted by the National Marine Fisheries Service. His letter states that through proper management and policy decisions at the tribal, state and federal level would address disease and other aspects of Klamath-Trinity River health.

    “We estimate that the spring run fishery, from the end of April to the end of June, generates close to $521,000 in revenue to our communities,” Howard writes. “A listing of the UKTR Spring Chinook would result in losses at local hospitality, restaurant, hotel and service sector industry, not to mention those in our community who operate as licensed full-time guides on our rivers.”

    In his letter to Sklar, Brandon A. Criss, chairman of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, also points out several fishing guide services in his county conduct business on the Klamath River. He also notes recreational and commercial fishing is economically important for communities throughout Northern California, pointing out that the per capita median income is $40,884, well below the state average.

    Criss also states a group of stakeholders, including Siskiyou County, are part of a coalition to address water quality and habitat for endangered coho salmon, which would also benefit spring chinook.

    The California Fish and Game Commission will meet at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the California Natural Resources Building, 1416 Ninth Street in Sacramento. Meeting agendas, staff reports and a live stream of the proceedings will be available at

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  • Big surge in Coho salmon population, but the endangered species still needs protection

    February 2, 2019

    San Francisco Chronicle By Peter Fimrite

    The winter rains have caused the biggest surge of coho salmon in a dozen years in the celebrated spawning grounds of western Marin County, one of California’s last great strongholds for the embattled pink fish.

    At least 648 coho this winter made their way against the current up meandering, forested Lagunitas Creek and its many tributaries on the northwestern side of Mount Tamalpais, according to a new census by biologists.

    The coho run is the largest in the North Bay since the winter of 2006-07 and well above the long-term average of about 500 fish. It’s the sixth-largest run since systematic surveys began in 1996.

    The surge of salmon is being credited to habitat restoration efforts for the endangered fish.

    “Many organizations and individuals have worked tirelessly for years to improve fish habitat in the creeks of Marin County, and it’s gratifying to see so many salmon returning to those creeks,” said Eric Ettlinger, an aquatic ecologist for the Marin Municipal Water District, which conducted the count with Watershed Stewards Program, National Park Service and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network.

    “After looking at where the population was just a few years ago I’m actually quite happy that it’s grown so much,” he said.

    The Lagunitas Creek migration is the largest run of wild coho between Humboldt and Monterey counties — most other river systems contain hatchery-raised fish — and one of the most remarkable. The fish swim 33 miles from the ocean into Tomales Bay and through the redwood- and oak-studded San Geronimo Valley, where half their spawning grounds are in developed areas, including the towns of Forest Knolls, Lagunitas, San Geronimo and Woodacre.

    The fish, which can reach lengths of 35 inches and weights up to 36 pounds, swim through people’s backyards, lay eggs and die. Their progeny migrate to the ocean to become adults, returning to the watershed — which includes Devil’s Gulch, Lagunitas, San Geronimo, Nicasio and Olema creeks — at age 3 to repeat the cycle.

    The number of coho spawning this year is a 10 percent improvement over their parent’s generation three years ago and a 30 percent gain since their grandparents spawned, Ettlinger said. Generational improvements like this are what conservationists want to see, especially in a species that has long been in decline along the West Coast.

    But the coho are far from being out of danger, as a half-eaten carcass in the gravel made clear to Ettlinger recently during a survey of Devil’s Gulch Creek. The bite marks were from a river otter, one of a half dozen that frequent the watershed.

    “It looks like this otter ate the heart and internal organs and left the rest,” Ettlinger said, as he cut off the head with a knife and dug into the bone and tissues, which he would later send to a laboratory for analysis.

    “River otters wouldn’t be a problem for a healthy population, but they can do real damage to a small population.”

    Sea lions and other ocean predators are among the many obstacles facing coho, which are also known as silver salmon.

    At least 10,000 coho once swam through the picturesque valley and bred in tributaries that snaked all the way up the side of Mount Tamalpais. Silvers, chinook and other salmonids were once so plentiful that, legend has it, old-timers living along the creek used to spear them from decks overlooking the creek.

    The fish continued to thrive despite rampant logging and construction of five major dams, starting in 1873. The spectacular runs finally came to a halt when Seeger Dam, which formed the Nicasio Reservoir, was built in 1961, wiping out the salmon population in Nicasio Creek.All together, the dams blocked 50 percent of the historic spawning habitat in the Lagunitas watershed.

    Development, drought and habitat destruction have made things worse. In 2009, only 52 coho returned to spawn in Marin’s creeks and tributaries.

    It’s not an isolated problem. Coho now make up only about 1 percent of their historic population along the coasts of California and Oregon. The species in California was listed in 2005 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

    Biologists say a full coho recovery would require the return of 2,600 fish to the Lagunitas watershed. The best winter since biologists began keeping records in 1994 was 2004-05, when 1,342 coho were counted.

    The Lagunitas surveys located a total of 324 egg clusters, known as redds, since the first big rains hit the Bay Area in late November. Since a male and female produce each egg cluster, the number of fish is calculated by doubling the number of redds.

    A year ago, Ettlinger counted 110 redds, meaning there were 220 coho in the creek system, but to his astonishment 30,000 young fish, known as smolts, migrated out to the ocean.

    “The number was far greater than what people thought this watershed could still produce, so that was very encouraging,” Ettlinger said. “We now know that tens of thousands of young fish can survive and go out to the ocean and that restoration efforts in the watershed are working.”

    Chinook salmon also have been seen in the creek, and the steelhead trout run, which peaks in February, is on track to be one of the largest on record, he said.

    He credited a community-wide habitat restoration program — including school work parties — and limits on creekside development. Future generations of coho will also benefit from a just completed project by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, or SPAWN, to build new floodplains on a mile-long stretch of land next to Samuel P. Taylor State Park where the community of Tocaloma once stood.

    Still, only about 2 percent of the coho that left for the ocean over the past two years have returned to spawn, a well-below-average survival rate.

    “This is still a critically endangered species,” Ettlinger said. “Salmon are going to be impacted by climate change and ongoing development, so the population could take a nose dive again if we are not very careful.”

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