Tara Duggan, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
During fifth period at Petaluma’s Casa Grande High School last week, students scooped tiny, wriggling fish out of a tank.
They weren’t dealing with classroom pets. Instead, the 17-year-olds were taking care of some the state’s last remaining coho salmon at a fish hatchery right on the school’s campus. Last month, wildlife officials moved around 4,000 endangered coho to the school’s cool, indoor tanks after conditions at a hatchery in nearby Lake Sonoma became unhealthy because of the drought. The high school will receive an additional 650 endangered coho trucked in from Santa Cruz in the coming weeks.
Casa Grande students usually raise steelhead trout native to the local watershed, donated by other hatcheries as a learning experience. But this unprecedented drought year is the first time the school has ever rescued a federally endangered species with nowhere else to go.
“We have this opportunity to save coho salmon, to see that we can do it, if people put their minds to it,” said Cathryn Carlson, 17, president of a nonprofit called United Anglers of Casa Grande, which runs the hatchery. Carlson, who goes by Kate, had just put on boots and waders before hopping into one tank’s chest-deep water to scrub its windows.
In some ways, the timing couldn’t be better for students starved for in-person instruction after being away from the classroom for almost 17 months.
Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/california/article/Bay-Area-high-school-rescues-4-000-endangered-16486539.php#photo-21508817
Guy Kovner, PRESS DEMOCRAT
As Lake Sonoma plummeted to record low levels this summer, the water has warmed enough to threaten the coho salmon raised in the state hatchery at the base of its 319-foot dam northwest of Healdsburg.
With signs of disease appearing in the juvenile coho, an endangered species in the Russian River, federal biologists took an unprecedented step in the local watershed: trucking about 2,000 fish nearly 50 miles south to a student-operated hatchery at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma.
“They’re welcome here,” Dan Hubacker, a science teacher and director of the school’s 38-year-old United Anglers program, said after the final load of 92 fish arrived Tuesday afternoon. “We’re here to help.”
The remarkable strategy comes during a severe statewide drought and escalating climate change that has crimped water supplies to North Bay farms and cities and caused rural wells to run dry.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/thousands-of-endangered-coho-salmon-moved-from-lake-sonoma-hatchery-amid-ri/
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
“It’s not that we think the net pen project is necessarily a bad project,” the committee’s past chairman, Gordon Bennett, and president of Save Our Seashore, said, but the potential risks and mitigations need to be evaluated.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has pulled the plug on plans to release a quarter-million hatchery-born Chinook salmon into Bodega Bay after several North Bay conservation groups demanded the agency first conduct a full environmental review.
The decision to cancel the project came just weeks before the planned release, providing what commercial and recreational fishing interests hoped would be a boost to fishery stocks when the juvenile smolts matured in three years.
But limited experience with ocean releases, and available data on survival, migration and spawning habits of trucked hatchery fish raised concerns about how they might mix or out-compete endangered fish naturally occurring in the Russian River and Lagunitas Creek once the introduced fish reached spawning age.
The fish were to have been transported directly from the Mokelumne River Hatchery in San Joaquin County to Bodega Bay, bypassing the usual downstream voyage from native freshwater habitat to the ocean.
That plan would have left them subject to straying randomly upstream, a Marin County salmon restoration group wrote to state wildlife officials as part of its insistence on a full and public environmental review.
“We have already documented adult Chinook from Half Moon Bay releases straying into Lagunitas Creek,” said the letter from the Lagunitas Creek Technical Advisory Committee, an independent consortium of about two dozen local, state and federal natural resource and wildlife agencies.
The hatchery fish, the letter said, “could increase the extinction risk of the nearby wild and endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead,” potentially bringing disease, diluting the genetics of wild fish stocks or out-competing natural fish for food and habitat in both ocean and freshwater areas.
Read more at: State decides against salmon release in Bodega Bay | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
California fishermen are bracing for the worst salmon season in eight years, one so grim that many will likely sit the season out completely.
Years of drought and unfavorably warm ocean conditions that existed when this year’s potential crop of king salmon was young have reduced the adult population to the lowest level forecast since 2009, when projections were so pathetic both sport and commercial salmon seasons were canceled.
Some hope that abundant winter rainfall and last year’s welcome spring rains will help restore next year’s salmon fishery to something approximating full strength. But until then, “we have one more bad drought hangover year to work through,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
“It looks horrible,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Lorne Edwards, who may skip what would be his third season in a row.
The recreational salmon fishery opens to California sport fisherman on April 1 every year and would normally open to the commercial fleet May 1.
But it will be several weeks yet before the season schedule is set, based on complex modeling and statistical projections aimed at estimating the number of adult salmon waiting in the ocean for the signal to swim upstream and spawn throughout the intensively managed West Coast fishery off California, Oregon and Washington states.
Analysts weigh a host of factors, including the previous year’s landings, the number of adult salmon found dead after spawning and the number of fish set aside for Native American tribes to catch. State and federal biologists consider each distinct natural and hatchery salmon population and their historic distribution in the ocean to determine where and when sport fishers and trollers are allowed to drop their lines in a given year.
Read more at: Worst salmon season in eight years projected in California | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The hatchery-reared fish will be trucked directly to Sonoma County from the state-run Mokelumne River hatchery near Lodi as part of a continuing effort to augment California’s declining Chinook salmon stocks, which took an especially hard hit during the prolonged drought.
Modeled after similar programs elsewhere on the California coast, the operation involves the use of a custom-made net pen to be positioned in the water, dockside, at Spud Point Marina in order to receive the smolts. The pen will provide a place for the young fish to adjust after their tanker ride and to acclimate to salt water before they head toward open water with the outgoing tide a few hours after their arrival.
The key advantage of such an effort is it allows the young fish to bypass the obstacles they would otherwise face getting downstream to the ocean, past unscreened water pumps and other dangers in the Sacramento River/San Joaquin River system, enhancing their chance of surviving to adulthood.
“The delta pumps just eat all those fish coming down, the little smolts coming down the river, and this makes sure that they make it northward to Bodega Bay, as a start,” said veteran Petaluma angler Victor Gonella, founder of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a sport and commercial industry group that put the project together.“This is just really good news for the fishermen in Bodega, the businesses in Bodega, anybody who loves salmon,” Gonella said. “We’re all hopeful that it will continue for years to come as we continue this process.”
Read more at: Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Coho were once so abundant in the Russian River system they supported a commercial harvest of more than 13,000 fish a year. But decades of development, including construction of dams at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, reduced the population to about 100 adult fish in 1999.
Dipping a small net into the clear water of Porter Creek, biologist Ben White delivered a few dozen squirming, silver coho salmon fingerlings into their new home Monday.
Morning fog lingered over the creek, a tributary of the nearby Russian River, as White and his three-man team from the Warm Springs Dam fish hatchery donned waterproof waders to deliver about 6,000 of the hatchery’s latest offspring into their adopted home.
Several of the 4-inch-long salmon immediately took shelter beneath the overhang of an underwater rock, a good choice, White said. Scientists expect the fish, about 10 months old, to quickly form a biological imprint with the creek and return, should they survive, in two or three years to spawn as adults.
“The hope is they will hunker down for the winter in Porter Creek and migrate out (to the ocean) in spring,” said White, who is lead biologist for the hatchery-based coho salmon recovery program.
Prized by anglers, the coho are closely monitored, as if they were precious cargo, for they represent the future of a diminished and officially endangered species.
Read more at: Young coho salmon arrive at new home in Porter Creek | The Press Democrat
Jeremy Hay, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
At the height of the sport fishery, in the 1950s, annual runs brought some 60,000 steelhead into the river, according to the Russian River Wild Steelhead Society.
Steelhead trout are tough, ocean- going fish and they seemed to affirm that in the way they came slamming through the trap door Saturday into a square elevator of water at the fish hatchery below Lake Sonoma.
“They’re strong and they’re very hardy,” said Danny Garcia, a state Fish and Wildlife technician supervising operations at the Don Clausen Hatchery at Warm Springs Dam.
“That’s probably why they got the name steelhead,” he said, smiling, “but don’t quote me on that.”
The fish, a favorite with anglers, were in the spotlight at the annual Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival, put on by the Friends of Lake Sonoma.
“It’s about kids, education and the importance of freshwater,” said Richard Thomas, president of the nonprofit group.
He estimated that nearly 6,000 people would attend during the one-day event, a crowd up slightly over last year’s numbers.
“We want to draw attention to Lake Sonoma as a public facility and the hatchery is part of that — our goal is the preservation of steelhead in the Russian River,” Thomas said.
After living in the ocean for several years, the steelhead make their way up the river and into Dry Creek, where a fish ladder leads to the hatchery. The hatchery’s job to manage and boost runs of the once-bountiful fish, which is no longer able to reach spawning streams cut off by the dam.
Read more at: Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival offers close look at | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
About 30,000 juvenile coho salmon may be doomed by the drought as Sonoma County streams shrink and become disconnected from the Russian River, trapping the young fish in pools that will dry up or degrade over the long, hot summer, experts say.
The parched conditions have appeared earlier this year than any other in the state’s current dry spell, and they could prove the deadliest in recent record to the imperiled coho, the focus of 14-year-old restoration effort costing millions of dollars.
“It’s grim. It’s going to be a rough year for the coho,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fish biologist who coordinates the UC Cooperative Extension’s coho monitoring program. “They can’t get where they need to go.”
At the same time, another 50,000 coho juveniles, known as smolts, are due for release from the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery below Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma and scientists are considering which streams will give the endangered fish the best chance of achieving their biological goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean this spring.
Two coho spawning streams — Porter and Pena creeks — are already cut off from the river. If no more rain falls, other tributaries, including Green Valley, Dutch Bill and Mill creeks, will likely go dry in spots, Obedzinski said.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is already planning rescue operations to save the smolts and younger fish in disconnected streams.
Read more via Shrinking Sonoma County streams put young coho salmon | The Press Democrat.
Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
More than 5,000 people turned out Saturday for the Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival, where many attendees got an up-close look at the mating habits of the threatened trout during its spawning season.
The annual event, put on by the Friends of Lake Sonoma, gives the public a chance to learn more about the fish and the efforts of various government agencies to bulk up its population at the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery at Warm Springs Dam. The nonprofit group has played a vital role since federal budget cuts affected operations at the visitor center, which is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Friends of Lake Sonoma assumed staffing for the tours last year.
Typically, most visitors to the hatchery are elementary school students, with about 4,000 children visiting the facility on annual basis.
The event, complete with food trucks, a wine tent and a karaoke singer, helps educate a broader swath of the public, said Jane Young, executive director for the group.
via Thousands celebrate steelhead at Lake Sonoma | The Press Democrat.
Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The stunning steelhead trout are returning to the Warm Springs Dam Hatchery and the public is invited to come on down for the homecoming.
The 7th Annual Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival on Feb. 7 is a chance to see these native beauties up close in a celebratory atmosphere that includes special activities, hatchery tours, live music and food and drink.
And except for the refreshments, which this year includes wines from Dry Creek wineries, everything is free.
The highlight of the event is watching the spawning fish, some of which grow to a robust two feet in length, as they make their way up a ladder of pools from Dry Creek to the hatchery, an elevation of 37 feet.
“The focus is to educate people about wildlife conservation, environmental protection and propagation of a threatened species,” said Harry Bosworth, the president of the Friends of Lake Sonoma, which hosts the event along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Sonoma County Water Agency.
Read more via Watch the return of the steelhead at Lake | The Press Democrat.