Posted on

Profile: Carmel River Steelhead Association

by Bob Garbarino

Last month I started a series of profiles on conservation organizations Santa Cruz Fly Fishing Club is supporting this year with cash donations. The goal of these articles is to keep you all informed and hopefully inspires you to learn more about conservation. This month I will continue with another outfit that is new on our list this year— Carmel River Steelhead Association (CRSA). CRSA is a good fit because steelhead are listed as either threatened or endangered throughout most (if not all) of the Pacific coast, and it is local.

The mission of CRSA is the restoration and conservation of the federally threatened steelhead fishery on the Carmel River and its watershed. The primary goal is to return the Carmel River watershed to as natural a state as possible so that it will maintain an annual run of adult steelhead in excess of 2,000 fish.

The association was formed in 1974. It appears that Richard Hughett (a long-time SCFF member) and Ray Wermuth are principally credited with the formation of the association. They are primarily an important advocacy voice for steelhead recovery on the Carmel and contribute matching funds to some of Tim Frahm’s Trout Unlimited projects on the Carmel River.

CRSA focuses their work in three main areas to recover steelhead populations in the Carmel River—Fish Rescues, Water Advocacy and Habitat Improvement.

Fish Rescues—Every year parts of the Carmel River and most of its tributaries go dry because of excessive pumping of water to meet the needs of humans. When this happens fish stranded in these drying reaches will die without intervention by caring people. CRSA is very integral to an ongoing juvenile rescue program in the upper watershed. They have agreements with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) who accompanies them to electroshock reaches which are drying back.  The captured juveniles are moved to the main stem. CRSA members have volunteered an average of 500 hours and rescued approximately 10,000 young steelhead per year.

Water Advocacy—While there are many reasons Carmel River Steelhead are endangered, lack of adequate water ranks number one. The Carmel River has been the primary source of water for the Monterey area resulting in over-pumping of the aquifer, thus drying the river. Similarly, local pumping for housing and vineyards results in the drying of most of the river’s tributaries.
With so many people wanting a portion of our limited amount of water, it has been a primary function of CRSA to be an advocate for adequate water for fish.

Habitat Improvement—In 1997 American Rivers listed the Carmel River as one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the United States. A lot has been done since that time to improve conditions on the Carmel River and a lot more must still be done. Whether it is a simple river trash removal or the installation of woody debris, CRSA has and will continue to work to improve the habitat from Los Padres Dam to the lagoon for steelhead.

For the SCFF conservation committee, Carmel River Steelhead Association is a great fit to complement our mission and worthy of our support. With their continued dedication and effort, we look forward to seeing some positive results in the recovery of our local steelhead.

For more information on CRSA, go to: