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Judge Decides in Favor of Fish in San Joaquin River Watershed

by Bob Garbarino

A Sacramento County superior court judge recently handed down a ruling upholding an important decision by the California State Water Board that impacts flows in the San Joaquin River and its three primary tributaries—the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus Rivers.
Background:
In 2018, the State Water Resources Control Board issued a water quality plan for the San Joaquin River and the aforementioned tributaries that are part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta watershed. The plan called for increasing flows in the three tributaries to help increase severely decreasing populations of chinook salmon and steelhead trout. In order to increase flows, water diversions would need to be reduced. Diversions of over 80% of river flows are currently allowed. In 2022, a stretch of the Merced River was run dry. The 2018 plan was challenged with numerous lawsuits and claims by large agricultural water suppliers such as the Merced Irrigation District and Westlands Water District as well as municipal suppliers including the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the city of Modesto.
The Decision:
A total of 12 lawsuits and 116 claims were rejected in this ruling. If and when the standards are implemented, diversions during certain times of the year will be limited to 50%-70% of total river flows. This will result in a double in water flow in the rivers at certain times of the year. Also rejected was a challenge to a limit to salinity levels. It is expected that lawsuits will challenge the court decision.
Another Idea:
Another approach governor Newsom has promoted are so-called “voluntary agreements”. This approach, where parties come together to work out a comprehensive, multi-year solution that brings together dozens of water agencies with the state and federal governments to pool resources and take concrete actions to provide targeted river flows and expand habitat in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and Bay Delta. These environmental improvements are supposedly guided by scientific monitoring and collaborative decision making. Many of the water agencies, including Westlands support the VA path. But, former Water Board chair Felicia Marcus says a voluntary agreement can be effective, regulatory requirements must be in place to enforce adequate water for the environment.
We will see how this saga plays out and if salmon and steelhead numbers bounce back sooner than later.

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2024-03-20/court-upholds-state-plan-to-require-more-water-in-california-rivers

 

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The Good News and Not So Good News

by Bob Garbarino

The Good News from Marin County
In Marin County creeks, Central California federally endangered coho salmon return numbers were non-existent last year. This year, however is a different story. On Olema Creek near Point Reyes, 70 redds were found. On one day last December, 150 adult coho were counted, which makes this year the best in over 15 years. Fishery biologists say one of the significant reasons is the work done to improve the habitat in the streams. The monitoring team also sighted coho this year in Pine Gulch Creek and Cheda Creek which until 2020 had no fish counted in over a decade. Redwood Creek in Muir Woods has also seen an increase in redd counts, after habitat enhancement and a release of 4,000 hatchery-reared fish. In the 1940s the California coho salmon population was estimated to to be from 200,000-500,000 fish. Today, about 1% remain (2,000-5,000). For more information, see the source of this article: https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/endangered-coho-salmon-bay-area-comeback-18682993.php

The Not So Good News From Yellowstone Park
In a really interesting and sobering article that came by way of Hatch Magazine titled “Have we taken our love for native trout too far?”, the author looks at the history of fishery management in Yellowstone Park as far back as 1888—before it became a National Park. At that time, native westslope cutthroat trout and Arctic grayling thrived from both the Gibbon and Firehole, down through the Madison and beyond. Apparently that wasn’t enough fish for the man in charge from the U.S. Army. He was quoted as saying “I hope to see all of these waters so stocked that the pleasure-seeker in the Park can enjoy fine fishing within a few rods of any hotel or camp.” By 1935, the grayling had completely disappeared from the park, due to the introduction on non-native brown trout and brook trout. Rainbow trout were also planted. These fish all out-compete the grayling and westslope cutthroat. The brookie has apparently been the most harmful. The article expands with other examples throughout the west of human intervention with harmful effects on native fish populations. There are some ongoing efforts to restore native fish and control the non-natives in small areas. But for the most part, that is all that can be realistically accomplished. The other problem is the changing climate resulting in more hot weather and droughts (resulting in stream temperatures too warm to support healthy trout), and flooding. The warmer water trend is causing largemouth and smallmouth bass to move further up into reaches that were once void of these fish. At this point, It appears that our expectations will be that in many of these streams we should try to manage the reliable flow of cool water to support any wild trout. To sum up, I find this quote from the author of this article spot on: “Truth be told, we couldn’t have fouled up Western trout fisheries more effectively had we actually sought to do it. Our ignorance and our arrogance 140 years ago, coupled with our disdain for the natural function of rivers led us to this point.”

https://www.hatchmag.com/blog/have-we-taken-our-love-native-trout-too-far/7715867?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly

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The Resilient Steelhead and the Zayante Watershed

by Bob Garbarino

Since steelhead are for many of us on our “to-do fishing list” this time of year, I thought I’d include some interesting information about this fish that, despite the environmental challenges it faces, continues to instinctively fight back to survive as a species. What I find really interesting is that steelhead are the same species as rainbow trout. Their lifestyles differ in that steelhead are anadromous (they spend part of their life-cycle in the ocean) and rainbow trout spend their lives in freshwater. An interesting blog appeared this month from FISHBIO about the steelhead’s amazing ability to adapt to unfavorable environmental conditions. Dams are problematic in that they limit spawning and rearing habitat. They also disrupt natural stream flow and temperature patterns. Stream diversions, agriculture and urban development also have an negative impact. And because they move from river to ocean and back they face threats that are difficult to measure. The article expands on the methods and new ideas FISHBIO and other biologist employ to collect data that provide information to help develop plans to improve wild steelhead populations. For more details go to:
https://fishbio.com/sea-to-shining-sea-amazing-adaptable-steelhead/

In other news, our local Sempervirens Fund received a conservation easement donation to permanently restrict development of 67 acres of property in the Upper Zayante Watershed. The property has second-growth redwood trees and habitat for rare animal species and mountain lions. Isabel Upani creek, where coho and steelhead inhabit, passes through the property on its way to the San Lorenzo River. Although the property still belongs to the landowners, the agreement ensures that the protections are permanent. To read more, go to:
https://www.sfgate.com/california-parks/article/california-redwoods-private-land-18590110.php

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The Tidewater Goby—Another State Fish

by Bob Garbarino

The California golden trout holds the well-deserved status of being California’s state fish. It’s arguably one of most beautiful fish…and it’s a trout, which we fly anglers hold in high esteem. There is another lesser known fish that is only found in and around coastal lagoons along California’s coast. Some of us fisher-types that know a little about our local streams have probably heard of the tidewater goby. Tidewater gobies only grow to about 2 inches in length. They are adapted to surviving in large variations of water salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen level. While their reproduction cycle can occur all year long, peak success takes place during the summer when the estuary sand bar is intact. In spite of the their resilient nature, a number of environmental changes have led to the tidewater goby to be listed as endangered. Coastal development that alters the natural formation of estuaries is one primary example. Over a span of about 60 years beginning in the early 1950s, the goby was not found. The reason is thought to be the discharge of poorly treated sewage, extensive levee construction and channelization. In 2013 and 2014 FISHBIO did surveys at the Salinas lagoon and found that the goby was the second largest number of fish counted. Fish surveys have been taking place annually with encouraging results. Although I was not able to find what specific recovery measures were enacted for the Salinas River Lagoon, I expect some action was taken following the release in of the “Recovery Plan for the Tidewater Goby” published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2005 to mitigate the above-mentioned stressors. Hopefully the improved conditions in the Salinas River lagoon will help other species populations grow as well!  For more details and information go to:
https://fishbio.com/a-true-but-endangered-californian-the-tidewater-goby/
And an interesting video on the survey on the Salinas river:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1Qsfl06NoQ&t=5s

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SCFF Volunteers Helping TU on Little Arthur Creek

by Bob Garbarino

Volunteers from Santa Cruz Fly Fishing club were out last month getting wet and dirty to help our local Trout Unlimited chapter. Tim Frahm, Central Coast Steelhead Coordinator for Trout Unlimited has been working on a project on Little Arthur Creek—a tributary of the Pajaro River—in an ongoing effort to improve and sustain steelhead habitat. Little Arthur Creek contains the best remaining spawning habitat for native steelhead in the upper Pajaro River system. One of the obstacles to steelhead moving upstream is a dam on the creek that is slated to be removed in 2024. The dam does have a crude retrofitted fish ladder that does not look to be effective. Another problem with the dam is that it collects debris on the upstream side—especially during heavy rain events. These two issues make it very difficult—if not impossible—for migration of steelhead further upstream.
Six of our club members showed up with shovels, picks, saws and other assorted tools to remove all sorts of wooden obstacles—small and large—to open up the flow of the stream for passage of fish beyond the dam prior to its removal. After a few hours of vigorous effort, we were able to accomplish our task. It was rewarding to spend the morning with my fellow fly anglers trying to help in a worthy cause to restore native fish in a local watershed. Thanks to Kevin Murdock, Kevin Morrison, Tommy Polito, Barry Burt and Jerry McKeon from Santa Cruz Fly Fishing. Also, thanks to Tim Frahm and Chris Fischer from Trout Unlimited Steinbeck Chapter for inviting us. I hope we can continue our our involvement in bringing back these iconic native fish. Trout Unlimited is one of the organizations our club supports with contributions thanks to your membership, raffle purchases and fundraiser participation.

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SCFF Supports Organizations That Make a Difference

by Bob Garbarino

Two conservation organizations our club supports with annual donations—Alameda Creek Alliance and Caltrout—are working on a project to increase the habitat for Chinook salmon and steelhead on Alameda Creek. The goal of this project is to provide fish access to an additional 20 miles of the Alameda Creek watershed, into and above Sunol Regional Park. The obstacle to be addressed is a protective concrete pad over a main PG&E gas pipeline near the 680 freeway in Sunol Valley. The concrete crosses Alameda Creek at a level that blocks fish passage except during high streamflow events. The plan is to lower the pipeline 17 feet below the stream bed. Caltrout will be providing their resources to spearhead the project, and will lead stream monitoring after the obstacle is removed. This work builds on many projects on Alameda Creek over the years that resulted in Chinook salmon and steelhead being able to swim up into Niles Canyon in 2022—the first time in 50 years. Thank you SCFF club members for your support that enables us to pass along our success to organizations like Alameda Creek Alliance and Caltrout. To learn more about this, go to: http://www.alamedacreek.org/newsroom/pdf/media%20articles/2023/Cal%20Trout%209-18-23.pdf

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Fly Fishing Conservation Best Practices

by Bob Garbarino

A few years ago, I posted an article in the newsletter with science-based conservation tips for fly anglers at: https://www.santacruzflyfishing.org/tag/november-2021/#post-3950. With the trend toward increased in angling pressure, drought and higher temperatures, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this subject. I found an article on the Fly Fishers International website that presents some great principles and practices for individual anglers that can help increase the survival rate of fish. Many of these were found in my previous article, but are certainly worth repeating. I must admit I haven’t always adhered to all these best practices, but I’m trying to be aware of them and become a better conservation-minded angler.

Fly Fishing Practices
Practice catch and release to help sustain and manage the fishery. This is especially important with all the challenges fish face. Land fish quickly. The longer the fish is played the more exhausted and stressed it becomes. Keep fish in the water. When removing the fly, keep the fish in the water so it can keep breathing. This is usually easier with a aid of a net.
Handle fish with care. Wet the fish and support it horizontally with both hands. Try not to squeeze too hard. This can be difficult when trying to control a slippery, lively fish. Avoid suspending the fish by its lip. Use barbless or crimped-barb hooks as they are easier/quicker to remove with less harm to the fish. It’s easier to remove a barbless hook from your body and clothing too!. A hemostat or other hook removal tool can be useful. If the fly is deep in the fish, cut the line off close to the fly as possible. When photographing fish, minimize time out of the water. Keep the fish in the water until the photographer says they are ready. When releasing, if the fish appears sluggish, gently hold it in the stream with its head facing into the current until it is ready to swim off. Carry a stream thermometer. When fishing for cold water fish—like trout—don’t fish when the water temperature approaches 70 degrees F.
Fly Fishing Gear and Flies
Use appropriate sized rod, reel, line and tippet that will allow landing your target species as quick as possible. Carry an effective hook removal tool. Use a rubber net whenever possible to help minimize damage to the fish’s skin and gills. Always use barbless or crimped barb hooks.
Protecting Fish, Water and Environment
Eliminate lead from the environment—BB weights and wire wrap for flies. Make sure you clean and dry (or other practical and effective method) equipment that contacts water when moving to a different watershed—especially when a body of water is known to have invasive critters like quagga mussels or New Zealand Mudsnails. Check local regulations for wading boot restrictions—felt soles are not permitted in some waters. Pack out all your trash, including tippet. Avoid stepping on spawning beds and redds. Don’t target actively spawning fish. Try to practice “leave no trace”.

For more details on this subject, go to: https://www.flyfishersinternational.org/Conservation/Ethos/Responsible-Fishing-Practices

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Costly Columbia River Hatchery Program—Results Disappointing

by Bob Garbarino

In the May newsletter this year I wrote about a study that found introducing hatchery fish into streams with wild fish populations actually destabilized and reduced the wild fish population. This month I came across another article about how costly efforts to support and increase native salmon populations in the Columbia River has failed. This conclusion was based on a report published by an economics professor at Oregon State University and a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington. They analyzed data collected over 50 years with counts of native and hatchery salmon and steelhead return runs at Bonneville Dam. The data indicated hatchery fish numbers had increased slightly, while wild salmon and steelhead populations had not. In fact, the introduction of hatchery fish have in some cases been found to have a harmful effect on the wild population. They also reported that over the last four decades, about $9 billion have been spent by federal and state agencies to run and maintain about 200 salmon hatchery programs in the Columbia River Basin.
While overfishing and the construction of 14 dams are the primary contributors to the declining numbers, others are farming pollution and diversion of water for irrigation, climate change, as well as habitat loss from logging and mining. An average of 1.5 million salmon and steelhead have run up the Columbia over the last decade—far short of the goal of 5 million by 2025. State of Oregon officials are moving forward with a third-party investigation of the hatchery operations, including the cost vs benefits. The Conservation Angler, an organization that focuses on protection of wild Pacific anadromous fish populations throughout the Northwest, is active in reforming hatchery practices including those on the Columbia/Snake River basin. This is another example of an angling group getting involved in conservation.
For more information about this subject got to: https://www.opb.org/article/2023/08/05/columbia-river-salmon-habitat-spending-study/

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Fall Creek Fish Ladder Improvement Project Begins

by Bob Garbarino

The San Lorenzo Valley Water District has announced that work has begun in Felton to improve fish migration up into Fall Creek—a tributary of San Lorenzo River. Early last year, our club submitted a letter in support of this project. This was in response to a request from one of our members, Carly Blanchard, who happens to be The San Lorenzo Valley Water District Environmental Programs Manager. The existing fish ladder—built thirty years ago—had steps too tall to allow the fish to easily move up the creek. The re-design incorporates lowering the ladder steps from eighteen to twelve inch steps. This is critical to make the trip upstream easier for steelhead and coho salmon. The water district has been working with the National Marine Fisheries Services and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on the design to meet current accepted standards. The budget for the project is about $2.3 million with $1.1 million coming by way of a grant from the CDFW Watershed Restoration Grant Program. Completion date is expected to be October 2023.  Great work Carly!
By the way, there is a trail that follows Fall Creek in the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell State Park that is beautiful, especially this year after all the rain. Check it out if you get a chance.
For more information, go to: https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2023/07/10/fish-ladder-upgrades-underway-at-fall-creek-in-felton/

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Tulare Lake is Back—For Now

by Bob Garbarino

Some of the expected outcomes of the onslaught of storms this year are the near record snowpack, reservoirs full to the brim and swollen rivers. With climate change, we can expect more drastic swings between flooding and drought in a feast-or-famine cycle. One event during heavy rain and snowpack years is the re-emergence of the “ghost lake”—Tulare Lake. Part of the complex history of man controlling water in California, Tulare has an interesting legacy. Tulare Lake was once the largest lake west of the Mississippi River, although its size varied between dry and wet periods. It was fed by the Kings, Tule, Kaweah and smaller rivers. During a typical year, the lake covered 650-700 square miles!
It provided habitat to a vast number of wildlife including thicktail chub (now extinct),  hitch, blackfish, Sacramento perch, pikeminnow, sucker, Tule Elk,  blackbirds, singing marsh wrens, geese, ducks white pelicans, black cormorants, herons, egrets, frogs, turtles, otters and beaver. Living off the abundance of wildlife were the indigenous Yokuts bands.
The demise of the Yokuts and Tulare lake can be traced to the appearance of European settlers. In the case of the Yokuts, malaria, smallpox, enslavement, genocide and the loss of their ancestral land were certainly devastating.
For Tulare Lake, after California became a State, the newly annexed “swamp and overflow” land in the area was subject to sale by the federal government for pennies. The conditions for sale were that the lake can be crossed in a boat and that the prospective buyer was willing to drain the lake for the purpose of farming. With this incentive, farmers engaged in constructing levees and other water containment measures to make the lake bed farmable. The final blow to the lake came in the first half of the 20th century with the influx of mega farming. These farmers had a hand in convincing the Army Corps of Engineers to spend millions of dollars building Pine Flat Dam on the Kings River as a flood control structure. Following shortly afterwards, dams on the Kaweah, Tule, and Kern Rivers were built. So, except during years when the snowmelt overwhelms the flood control infrastructure (1969, 1983, and 1997 and 2023) Tulare Lake does not exist. From a wildlife resurgence perspective, this year can be considered a wonderful event. Not to mention recharging much-depleted aquifers that have been over-drawn over the years. The downside is how all the water has disrupted and displaced residents in the region. Many of the residents are on the low end of the income scale, will loose farming jobs. Water managers in the area think that it may take a year or two to reclaim much of the lake for farming, costing the economy over a billion dollars.
While we will never return Tulare Lake to its historic glory, I can’t help from thinking if a scaled back version of the lake would be a compromise for the best interests for all stakeholders in California.

For an interesting read, see the following website:  https://californiawaterblog.com/2023/04/16/lake-tulare-and-its-fishes-shall-rise-again/

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Klamath River Dam Removal—A Deep Dive

by Bob Garbarino

We’ve all been hearing about the decade-long effort to to get approval and funding to remove four dams on the Klamath River. The nation’s largest dam removal project is underway. The project cost estimate comes in at $500 million and is expected to have the river at a free-flowing state by the end of 2024.
So, what what is involved in a project like this?
Here are some numbers to give a sense of the scale. Remove 100,000 cubic yards of concrete, 1.3 million cubic yards of soil and 2,000 tons of steel. Fifteen million cubic yards of sediment that has accumulated behind the dams will be released.
What needs to happen prior to removal of the dams?
Seventeen million native plant seeds and 300,000 tree and shrub starts are being collected and prepared for planting the 2,000 acres that will be exposed after the reservoirs are drained. Invasive species are being removed. Water monitoring, wildlife surveys and barriers to protect fish in construction areas are being implemented. Endangered Lost River and short-nosed suckers will need to be relocated because they can’t survive in a flowing river. A new water line will need to be installed that is part of the delivery system to the town of Yreka. Some access roads will need to be widened and fortified to accommodate the heavy machinery required to demolish and remove the dam. Bridges will need to be reinforced. Nearby construction crew temporary housing needs to be provided. All this pre-demolition work need to take place before the dams can be removed.
The first dam to be demolished is Copco 2, the smallest of the four. This dam will have holes drilled and filled with dynamite. Hydraulic picks and other machinery will be used to break down the rubble into manageable chunks to be hauled away. While Copco 2 is being removed, the other three dams will be prepared for draw down and demolition.
This summary just touches the surface of all the details of this huge project. When all is said and done, the hope and expectation is that a healthy, free-flowing Klamath river will provide a much improved ecosystem. And with that, an extended reach of clean, cold habitat for re-establishing decimated Coho and Chinook salmon populations.
For more details and a deeper dive, see the excellent article found at: https://www.northcoastjournal.com/humboldt/undamming-and-restoring-the-klamath/Content?oid=26439802
The non-profit organization in charge of managing the project is Klamath River Renewal Corporation. Their website is: https://klamathrenewal.org/

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The River’s End and Hatchery Fish

Hello fellow conservationists. Happy belated Earth Day. I hope you all are enjoying the spring weather and are getting out in nature, getting a line wet and finding some fish. I thought I’d cover two topics this month that are always pertinent to conservation: water and fish.

Earlier in April, I sent out a message letting you know about the documentary River’s End: California’s Latest Water War. I hope you had a chance to watch it. I found it to be very interesting and sobering…lots of history on this subject with an emphasis on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and shows how money, power and politics have directed the flow of water.   It provides a historical example of how in the early 1900s, the Owens Valley water was diverted to quench the thirst of the growing metropolitan area in Los Angeles. Now, the primary consumer of water in the state is big agriculture at 80%. High value crops (it takes one gallon of water to grow one almond) are distributed world wide. However dire the situation is as it pertains to our fisheries, there are solutions if we pay attention to the science and have the will to act. That is why our club supports organizations like the California Sport Fishing Alliance and the Bay Institute as they focus much of their efforts on the health of the S.F. Bay-Delta. If you haven’t seen River’s End yet, I urge you to do so.  You can find it here: https://tubitv.com/movies/704504/river-s-end-california-s-latest-water-war

On another topic, a study by a biology professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro reinforces claims that releasing hatchery-reared native fish to augment or rescue fish populations has a negative effect on the wild fish populations. In the article, a couple of scenarios were cited as examples. One of them is on watershed where fish populations are dwindling, the fundamental problem is habitat degradation (example: fish-killing dams). Adding more fish into a compromised environment does not improve the fishery. Another example cited is where otherwise healthy populations of wild fish are augmented with large releases of hatchery fish (example: Alaskan/Asian pink salmon), which may be attributed to crashes of zooplankton in the ocean. Zooplankton is a fundamental component of the food chain that impacts multiple fish.
As stated in the article, “In other words, population numbers, reproductive success and the overall health of the fishery was all over the map on streams where fish were regularly planted. “Control” streams that didn’t have hatchery “enhancements” sported fisheries that were generally healthier and more stable.”
For more details go to this interesting article: https://www.hatchmag.com/articles/more-evidence-releasing-hatchery-reared-native-fish-harmful/7715689

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2023 Commercial and Sport Chinook Season in Jeopardy

by Bob Garbarino

On March 10th the Pacific Fisheries Management Council adopted proposals that will close Chinook fishing for 2023. They will reconvene on April 7 and will vote to finalize their decision on the sport and commercial season for California marine and inland waters as well as off most of the Oregon coast. In addition, three organizations that represent commercial and sport fishing professionals are also recommending closing the season: Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association and the Northern California Guides and Sportsmen’s Association. Some members of these organizations predict the 2024 season will be closed as well. The last time fishing was cancelled was in 2008 and 2009. This year, only 169,767 adult Sacramento River fall run chinook are estimated to be offshore this year. Last year the estimate was 396,458. Ten years ago the numbers were in the 800,000 range. In 2022, only an estimated 61,850 fish made it to spawn in the Sacramento River—the 3rd lowest recorded. Hostile conditions, brought on by extreme heat, state and federal water control policies, thiamine deficiency—to name a few—all contribute to the low numbers of fish surviving.
I know many—if not all—of our club members are staying informed on important issues like this, and support many local, state and beyond conservation organizations. As you may be aware, our club allocates a substantial portion of our budget to support many organizations fighting for the future of out beautiful sport. Whenever you have an opportunity to weigh-in on issues such as the one in this article, I urge you to let your voice be heard. Thank you for all you do to support SCCF!

For more information on this article check out these sources:
https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/regulators-signal-no-california-salmon-season-this-year-amid-dismal-return/
https://goldenstatesalmon.org/fishery-council-moves-to-close-california-and-parts-of-oregon-salmon-fishing-in-2023/
https://www.nrdc.org/bio/doug-obegi/biden-admin-takes-1st-step-undo-trumps-delta-destruction

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California Chinook Salmon Facing a New Threat

by Bob Garbarino

In my January conservation article, I wrote about spawning Chinook being transported above Shasta Dam to the colder McCloud River. The main reason for doing this was to see if the health and survival of the fish would increase. The fish grew faster in this habitat and survival rates increased. This article discusses another challenge the Chinook faces. In addition to the well established threats to the survival of Chinook salmon, including dams, drought, extreme summer heat and wildfires, their primary food source is now found to be accelerating their decline. The abundance of anchovies in our ocean waters appears to be the favored forage fish of Chinook. Unfortunately, anchovies carry an enzyme—thiaminase— which causes a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency in the fish. Researchers are correlating the B1 deficiency with lower survival rates and numbers of salmon returning to their spawning water. 2022 was the worst winter run spawn on record. Scientists are trying to understand why there is such an abundance of anchovies and why Chinook are so heavily favoring them over other food sources that have historically been part of their diet. One interesting method is to analyze fish lenses to identify how and why the food source has changed over time. Meanwhile, egg bearing females are being injected with thiamin. The vitamin is also added to the water in the tanks where the fry are reared. Egg production is also being increased at the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville. Let’s hope these and other efforts will improve the Chinook population throughout our state and beyond.
For more information and details, go to the following:

https://wildlife.ca.gov/News/feather-river-fish-hatchery-to-increase-production-of-fall-run-chinook-salmon-to-combat-impacts-of-drought-thiamine-deficiency

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2023-01-03/a-hunger-for-anchovies-is-killing-off-endangered-salmon

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Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project Volunteer Opportunities

by Bob Garbarino

One of our club’s most valued local partners, Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project has some opportunities for us to help out and learn about this organization in a hands-on fashion. Please contact Bob Garbarino (rjgarbarino@gmail.com or 831-24-2045) if you want to participate in any of these activities.

1.  Hatchery—Come up on weekends for a few hours to feed fish, check intakes, etc.
or help with spawning at least one weekday a week through mid-February.  The hatchery is about 18 miles north of Santa Cruz.

2.  Fish Trap–  Interested in helping out with San Lorenzo River steelhead trapping for data collection?  MBSTP and the Santa Cruz Water Dept. are planning on operating the fish trap in Felton.  For trapping, it can be a “spur of the moment” kind of thing with flow conditions and inflation of the dam.  This is not a set-schedule volunteer event. The trap is run if river conditions are suitable and the dam is inflated, so volunteers have to be pretty flexible.  The hope is the window will open mid-January.

3.  Coho Release–As we move into spring, there will be a chance to help out with releasing fish (also, potentially an adult release to Pescadero in late January like we had last year).  Jerry McKeon, Jeff Gose and I participated last year and it was a really special experience.  There will probably be only 2-3 spots available as there were last year.

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Two Conservation Organizations Helping California Rivers

by Bob Garbarino

This month we’ll look at two conservation organizations SCFF supports and current projects they are working on to improve habitat for fish in California

Western Rivers Conservancy “buys land along the West’s finest rivers and streams to conserve habitat for fish and wildlife, protect key sources of cold water and provide public access for all to enjoy”. Their motto is: “Sometimes to save a river, you have to buy it”. They look for opportunities to purchase key sections of rivers and convey them to partners with the goal of protecting fish and wildlife while providing public access permanently. One of their projects is to conserve the 4,344 acre Silva Ranch which includes a stretch of the Wheatfield Fork and a series of headwater creeks—all feeding the Gualala River in Sonoma County, California. The cold water in the river and creeks is healthy habitat for winter steelhead and Coho salmon. For more information, go to https://www.westernrivers.org/projects/ca/gualala-river.

Cal Trout engages in numerous projects with the goal of “Ensuring healthy waters and resilient wild fish for a better California”. One of their projects took place in northern Mendocino County last summer. A concrete dam was built on Cedar Creek, a tributary of the South Fork Eel River. The dam was part of an experimental fish hatchery that was decommissioned in 1964. Unfortunately, this eight foot dam impeded migration of native juvenile fish, including steelhead, Chinook and steelhead salmon. The cold water in the upper reaches of Cedar Creek is now available to these fish. Check out the details: https://caltrout.org/news/cold-water-refuge-unlocked-for-south-fork-eel-river-steelhead-and-salmon

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Chinook Salmon in the McCloud River

by Bob Garbarino

Back in the 1940s, Shasta and Keswick Dams were constructed to achieve a number of objectives, including water storage and generating hydroelectric power.  However,  through an apparent lack of foresight, the welfare of wild fish spawning habitat wasn’t given priority.  Perhaps it was thought that the stretch of the Sacramento River below the Dams would provide sufficient spawning and rearing habitat for Chinook (King) salmon.  Prior to the construction of these dams, Chinook salmon had access to the McCloud river for spawning.  As a direct result of the dam construction, the Chinook runs have declined.  In 1994 these winter run salmon were federally listed as endangered.  In recent years, the fish counts have further diminished with severe drought and excessive warm water conditions.  Peter Moyle, a fish biologist at UC Davis who has studied Central Valley fish since the 1970s stated “The winter run is headed for extinction, no question, if we don’t develop an artificial system for keeping it going,”

In response, federal and state agencies embarked on an effort to transport adult chinook from the base of Keswick Dam to Battle Creek, about 50 miles southeast where the water is more consistently cool and clear and the fish can move upstream and back out to the ocean.  In addition, about 40,000 Chinook eggs were transported from a hatchery by truck and helicopter above Shasta Dam to the McCloud River.  As the McCloud river fish migrated back downstream,  the surviving smolt were captured and transported down below Keswick Dam to enable them to move down the Sacramento River.   For more information and insight on this interesting effort to prevent these amazing fish from disappearing from this watershed, go to:  https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/saving-salmon-chinook-return-to-californias-far-north-with-a-lot-of-hum/

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Klamath River Dam Removal Receives Federal Approval

by Bob Garbarino

In what has been a decades long saga, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently approved the removal of four dams on the Klamath River by issuing a License Surrender Order for the Lower Klamath River Hydroelectric Project.  This will be the largest dam removal project in US history.  The primary expected benefit of removing the dams is restoring the Chinook and Coho Salmon runs by expanding spawning area upstream of the dams and allowing unobstructed passage downstream to the ocean.  Pre-construction begins in spring 2023 with Copco dam #2 scheduled to be removed in late summer 2023 and the remaining 3 dams removed by October 2024.  Hopefully this will bring a brighter future for future generations of Native Americans, anglers and all who benefit from a healthy river system!

Press Release:
https://klamathrenewal.org/ferc-approves-license-surrender-and-decommissioning-of-the-lower-klamath-project-dams/

Article:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/17/us-dam-removal-endangered-salmon-klamath-river

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Delta Smelt….Where are you?

by Bob Garbarino

Over period of seven years, surveys in the Delta Estuary have found zero Delta smelt during the month of September. Data is recorded every year from September through December. The last month and Delta smelt (2 fish) were caught was October 2017. See https://www.dfg.ca.gov/delta/data/fmwt/indices.asp
In order to ward off extinction of Delta smelt, UC Davis has raising them in a captive breeding program. Beginning late last year and continuing early 2022, the hatchery fish were released into the delta as part of an experiment.
Along with the Delta smelt, populations of longfin smelt, striped bass, American shad, threadfin shad and splittail have all declined catastrophically coinciding when the State Water Project went into operation in 1967. Other factors contributing to the decline are toxic chemicals, decreasing water quality and invasive species.
For more information, go to https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2022/11/3/2133402/-Breaking-Zero-Delta-smelt-found-in-Midwater-Trawl-Survey-for-seventh-September-in-a-row?utm_campaign=recent

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Steelhead and Coho Found in Mill Creek

by Bob Garbarino

Just over a year ago, a small dam on Mill Creek near Bonny Doon was removed (see my article in the June 2021 newsletter https://www.santacruzflyfishing.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/SCFF_June_2021.pdf). One of the expected outcomes was to expand and improve spawning habitat for fish. Now, scientists have reported some unexpected good news. Twelve juvenile steelhead and 15 coho fry have been found in the creek. It is the first time coho have been found in the creek. Though it is early in the recovery process and more work to be done—like removing invasive plant species and placement of large woody debris—this is encouraging news, no doubt.

For more interesting details on this article, see the following websites:

https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Endangered-coho-salmon-Mill-Creek-California-17492120.php

Coho, Cobble, and Creek Beds: A Year After the Mill Creek Dam Was Removed

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Los Padres Dam Steelhead Migration Data Results

by Bob Garbarino

An interesting recent article from FISHBIO discussed a study performed by the National Marine Fisheries Services on the migration of steelhead from the Carmel River up into Los Padres Reservoir and and their return out of the reservoir and downstream toward the ocean.  The data obtained from the experiment supports the concept that fishways at dams dams present what they call ecological traps.  The article describes ecological traps:  “Animals expressing instinctual behaviors that put them at disadvantage in an altered environment is referred to as an ecological trap.”    The goal of the study was to determine the how many fish made it back out of the reservoir on their way out to the ocean.   There are two routes for the fish to make it out:  over the spillway (when there is enough water) and through a bypass.  Both adult and juvenile steelhead preferred the spillway by a significant margin and that very low percentage of  fish make it back down to an antenna 8.7 miles downstream.  The scientists concluded that the dam significantly impairs downstream passage and the fishway is creating an ecological trap.  I encourage you to read the full article….it’s not long and and is quite interesting.  FISHBIO has an office in Santa Cruz.

https://fishbio.com/what-goes-up-might-not-come-down-fishways-as-an-ecological-trap/