Hatchery-Born Coho Salmon Are Helping Save the Species From Extinction in the Russian River
June 9, 2019
KQED By Tiffany Camhi
Right now, thousands of 1-year-old coho salmon, or smolts, are making their way to the Pacific Ocean from the Russian River in Sonoma County.
But most of these endangered fish weren’t actually born in the river's tributaries. Instead, they were bred and raised at the Warm Springs Fish Hatchery in Geyserville.
At the beginning of this century, the coho in the Russian River were almost completely eradicated.
“We were seeing less than 10 adults returning to the Russian River watershed, when years ago there were thousands of fish returning,” says Mariska Obedzinski, who helps run California Sea Grant’s Russian River Salmon and Steelhead Monitoring Program.
The Russian River watershed was once a stronghold for Central California’s coho salmon population, but Obedzinski says things like extreme habitat loss and drought years have led to the downturn. According to California Sea Grant, the state’s coho has dwindled down to an estimated 15% of its population in the 1940s.
Obedzinski’s group, along with federal and local agencies, have been helping rebuild the coho population in Sonoma County through a combination of restoration efforts, monitoring and the hatchery program, which began in 2004. That was when some of the last handful of coho born in the watershed were captured and bred.
“It was a last attempt to really save the coho salmon in the Russian River watershed,” says Obedzinkski.
Now the program releases thousands of smolt, at different life stages, throughout the year in the Russian’s tributaries. More than 1.5 million smolt have been released since the program began. The fish are closely monitored to see how they're surviving, but watching over these young fish after releasing them into the wild is no easy task.
Teams of biologists go out daily to check traps in five of the watershed’s creeks, hoping to find a mix of healthy hatchery-born and natural-born salmon.
A contraption, made up netting and pipes, funnels anything going downstream into a covered, wooden box. On any given day, anywhere from a handful to hundreds of smolt can be found inside. And sometimes, other aquatic animals get stuck in the trap too.
“If there's something big, you can hear it splashing around in there,” says Nick Bauer, a fisheries biologist with California Sea Grant.
Bauer and his team count and scan every single coho they find before letting them go back downstream to the Russian River. A metal detector helps identify which fish have an implanted wire tag, which means they're hatchery-born.
Then a portion are measured and weighed. An even smaller portion get trackers implanted in them, which help biologists monitor the migratory habits of the smolt and find out whether the fish come back to these creeks as adults to spawn.
“We'd like to see wild fish being able to complete their life cycle in the streams on their own,” says Obedzinksi. “We ultimately would like to see the whole hatchery component go out of business.”
Obedzinksi says the program is making progress. About 1,200 natural-born smolt were recorded in the watershed in 2018, the second highest amount documented since the program began, according to a recent report from California Sea Grant.
“If this program wasn't in place, coho salmon would pretty much be extinct in the watershed,” says Bauer.
But Bauer also says it’s not just about the coho. These fish are a cornerstone of a healthy ecosystem.
“Over 127 different species will feed on salmon,” says Bauer. “And they perform this function of bringing ocean derived nutrients back to our freshwater systems and increase the health of the whole system.”
Now the smolt heading to the Pacific Ocean are on their own. They’re at the beginning of what can be a treacherous journey. Most will spend about a year and a half growing up in the ocean, facing all sorts of predators and possibly another drought, before attempting to make their way back to the Russian River to spawn.
Rice Field Salmon Pilot Project Off To Good Start
June 7, 2019
So far so good for a pilot project to grow salmon in California’s rice fields. The Department of Fish and Wildlife and Sacramento area farmers are in the first year of a three year effort to expand the salmon population. California Rice Commission president Tim Johnson says they put baby fish in rice fields because they replicate natural habitat. In the $1.4 million project, micro transmitters have been inserted into about 900 young Chinook salmon to track their journey from the Sacramento Valley into the Pacific Ocean.
Heads up, salmon lovers: Epic catch brings tons of fresh fish to the Central Coast
May 31, 2019
San Luis Tribune By Nick Wilson
Salmon are running in epic numbers this year off the Central Coast, and that means lots of fresh fish for commercial fishermen and hungry customers.
This year’s salmon season, which started commercially on May 1, is the best local fishermen have seen in 20 years.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates an increase of more than 150,000 Chinook salmon in California coastal waters this year compared to last, originating from Sacramento River fall-run stocks, many of which have made their way to the Morro Bay coast.
Giovanni DeGarimore, owner of Giovanni’s Fish Market & Galley in Morro Bay, is unloading thousands of pounds of fresh-caught salmon daily from local and out-of-the-area boats, citing a 15,000-pound distribution on Tuesday alone.
“It’s like Christmas for us,” DeGarimore said. “This is the biggest salmon catch we’ve had in the past two decades. We’re all really excited to see the boats coming in. Tourists are taking photos. Salmon are beautiful fish, and they make spectacular fillets.
“It’s a fun time around here.”
Lots of fresh salmon for sale
The Tribune observed one commercial fishing boat, the Gladnik out of Crescent City, unload 414 salmon at DeGarimore’s dock, amounting to more than 4,000 pounds. The company Caito Fisheries hauled off bins of ice-packed fish for delivery to San Francisco.
Nearby, customers of Giovanni’s Fish Market & Galley, located on the Embarcadero, found fillets of salmon on sale at $29.99 per pound, though prices range between $20 and $30 per pound, DeGarimore said.
Fishermen get paid about $7 per pound, and DeGarimore has seen local boats making as much as $5,000 a day off their catches, often taking in about $30,000 over a five-day outing.
Jeremiah O’Brien of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization said boats are coming to the waters off the Central Coast from as far away as Oregon. He said it’s the best fishing he has seen in 19 years.
“The season is closed for three days, and when it opens next week, I expect there will be many more boats here,” O’Brien said.
The commercial salmon season runs through July 31 along the California coast from Monterey to the Mexican border, with some short breaks during that time, including the three-day closure from Saturday through Tuesday. It resumes on Wednesday.
DeGarimore said the current run along the Central Coast is bringing heavier fish than those caught in Northern California.
“Our average here is about an 11-pound fish, while up in the Bay it’s about 7 pounds,” DeGarimore said. “We’re seeing fatter fish here compared to what they’re getting up there.”
Giovanni’s also has an online commerce service and ships orders of fresh salmon every day to states across the country.
Salmon buzz hits sport fishers
Local sport fishermen are also hooking into the salmon bonanza.
The fish are typically caught between 200 to 300 feet, said Bruce Harwood, general manager of Virg’s Landing, a tackle shop and charter fishing business.
“I’ve been selling a lot of salmon lures, barbless hooks and other tackle,” Harwood said. “We really focus on rockfish, and so we’re not taking people out to catch salmon. But we’re selling a lot of equipment to private boaters.”
Harwood called it a “banner year” for salmon fishing, one in which he hopes will also bring albacore, or longfin tuna, later this season. Albacore is found in in temperate, tropical waters worldwide.
“The most asked question I get is, ‘How’s it looking for albacore?’” Harwood said. “It will depend on ocean conditions. ... They’re such a good fighting fish.”
Brent Lintler, who operates the Port San Luis Boatyard and Sport Launch, said it’s the “best year I’ve seen” for salmon. He said 45 boats caught 79 salmon on May 25, a busy day for private boaters.
Salmon data shows spike from Sacramento run
The reasons for the increased salmon catches include successful survivals of fish raised in hatcheries in Northern California rivers, which have contributed to more prevalent salmon populations off the California coast.
About 379,600 adult Chinook salmon are estimated to be inhabiting California ocean waters from the Sacramento River fall-run, a main salmon stock harvested in California waters, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Sacramento salmon estimate last year was 229,400, according to Barry Miller, an environmental scientist with Fish and Wildlife.
That estimate takes into consideration a number of factors, including fish survival rates and spawning data.
“A lot of those fish (in the Sacramento fall run) survived to make it out into the ocean,” Miller said. “This is a healthy year.”
Miller said that when the adult salmon enter the ocean from the Sacramento River near the Golden Gate bridge, they “either turn left or right.”
Miller said it’s clear that many of the salmon traveled south this year. Food sources and water temperatures also are likely factors as to where the salmon run, Miller said. Typically, after three years at sea, salmon return to their spawning site to die.
“There are definitely a lot being caught in pretty big numbers down there (along the Central Coast), though they’re also being caught in San Francisco,” Miller said. “Food has to be part of that. Ocean temperatures have to be part of that.
“None of those things are the sole reason, though.”
Something Fishy Aromas bridge mural welcomes steelhead back to Pajaro River
May 30, 2019
Voice of Monterey Bay by Kathryn McKenzie
A new mural being painted on a bridge isn’t just a way to welcome people to Aromas — it’s also a way to welcome steelhead trout back to the Pajaro River after a long absence.
The project, put together by two nonprofit groups and assisted by Anzar High School students and other community members, has been in the works for some six months but has run into numerous interruptions, including rainy weather.
Last week, though, students were out on the bridge painting fish designs in bold tones of orange, blue, green and yellow, on a long concrete strip that forms the bridge’s west side. The bridge, more than 500 feet long, crosses the river at the border of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
Truck drivers coming and going from the nearby Graniterock quarry honked their horns in approval as they rumbled by, shaking the bridge with little earthquakes each time they passed.
It didn’t seem to bother the artists, though, who were intent
on their work.
“The bridge was cleaned, primed and painted blue,” said Linda Bjornson of Aromas Hills Artisans, one of the groups involved in the project. “The fish are initially painted white, and then the colors go over the top of the fish.”
Bjornson was out there painting alongside Anzar art students as well as their teacher, Emily Scettrini, who teaches the advanced art class. Scettrini notes that each student was given a template and the color scheme, and then had to come up with the design on their own.
The result is that each fish is an individual, but all complement each other other in color and shape.
Coming up with a design was challenging, said Cesar Vazquez, an Anzar senior who was carefully painting his fish in a striped pattern.
And each student had a slightly different take on the style — Ruby Rodriguez created wave-like patterns, while next to her, Kiauna Oliver put down patches of color.
“I think of fish, I think of scales,” said Oliver. “I’m trying to make the whole thing scaly-looking.”
Bjornson said the fish theme is no accident, and has ties to several different community projects. More than a decade ago, the Aromas Hills Artisans erected a fish sculpture in the park that is in the heart of the little town. It’s a big fish made up of little fish, each one painted by a community member.
In 2004, artist Jennifer Colby, a professor at CSU Monterey Bay and a longtime Aromas resident, co-curated an traveling exhibit called “Rumme: The Pajaro River Watershed Experience,” which called attention to the problems facing the river, including the plight of steelhead trout, whose numbers had been severely impacted by watershed pollution and agricultural runoff.
In fact, steelhead weren’t seen in the river at all during the 1990s and early 2000s, and environmentalists feared that the fish were gone forever. But as measures have been put into place to protect the river as well as community cleanup efforts and habitat restoration, the river coming back to life.
In 2017, steelhead once again began spawning in Uvas Creek near Gilroy, which feeds into the Pajaro. Now, slowly, the steelhead are making a comeback.
The idea for a mural started last year; the concept came from AHA member Joyce Oroz, who looked at the long, curved surface and thought a river design would be perfect.
Murals are nothing new for the artisans, who have not only liberally decorated Aromas buildings with colorful designs, but also created murals at the Watsonville Wetlands Watch visitors center.
For a small group, though, it was big. “It sounded like a wonderful idea, but it’s just huge,” said Bjornson.
With the help of nonprofit Terra Cultura, the bridge project went forward in gaining permission and permits, which had to come from both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. The fish design came from AHA member Cindy Couling.
Now, the community at large is being invited to be part of it. Painting days will be held starting this Sunday at the bridge, and will continue until all 500-plus-feet are completed — perhaps as many as 80 fish, each 42 inches long.
The mural project is being funded by part of the AHA budget as well as a $1,000 grant from the Aromas Eagles service club. To cover the rest of the expenses, locals are invited to dedicate a fish for a $50 donation. Bjornson is working with Aromas-area organizations to find painters and donors.
When everything’s said and done, the mural will be a beautiful reminder of the river’s importance in this community, and of caring for it.
With the mural, “We’re welcoming people to Aromas, and also welcoming the steelhead back to the river,” said Bjornson.
Reintroduction of Winter Run Chinook Into The McCloud River
May 21, 2019
Barbless.Co Podcast by Jon Ambrose – NOAA / NMFS
In this episode of the show we sit down with NOAA Biologist Jon Ambrose. Jon is the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) salmon Reintroduction Coordinator for the California Central Valley.
We talk in detail about the reintroduction efforts currently underway to bring Winter Run Chinook salmon back to the McCloud River. The plan involves deployment of a thermal curtain that stretches bank-to-bank across the upper section of the McCloud arm of Lake Shasta in an effort to capture and truck migrating juvenile salmon.
We express our concerns for what a thermal curtain would mean to resident lake brown trout and rainbow trout that use the McCloud each year in the fall for spawning (at the same time the reintroduction project will be happening).
Be sure to download schematics for the thermal curtain as well taking a deeper dive into a presentation that we just published to our YouTube channel – a collaboration we did with Jon on behalf of NOAA/NMFS in order to represent the agency’s plan as accurately as possible. All links are below.
Learn more about the project: https://www.usbr.gov/mp/bdo/shasta-dam-fish-pass.html