[env-trinity] Times Standard: Salmon surveys find low fish counts on Salmon, Trinity
tstokely at att.net
Thu Jul 30 07:54:42 PDT 2015
It's really a shame that the Trinity River Restoration Program hasn't funded any salmon habitat restoration work in the South Fork Trinity River. TShttp://www.times-standard.com/environment-and-nature/20150729/salmon-surveys-find-low-fish-counts-on-salmon-trinity-rivers
Salmon surveys find low fish counts on Salmon, Trinity rivers]Salmon River Restoration Council 9/20/06 A spring-run Chinook salmon spawns in the cool waters of the Salmon River in September 2006 as Karuk Tribe fisheries biologists monitor the fish populations. A survey of Chinook salmon in the Salmon River conducted last week found the fourth lowest count in over 20 years. Photo courtesy of Nat Pennington of the Salmon River Restoration Council
By Will Houston, Eureka Times-StandardPOSTED: 07/29/15, 9:35 PM PDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGOA fish counting survey of spring-run Chinook salmon — pictured here swimming alongside summer steelhead trout — conducted earlier this month found the fourth lowest number of salmon in the river in over 20 years. Similar results from a South Fork Trinity River survey this month have prompted concern by local fisheries experts of the effects of the ongoing statewide drought. Photo courtesy of Nat Pennington of the Salmon River Restoration Council
At a glanceLowest counts of wild, adult, spring-run Chinook salmon on the Salmon River from 1990 to 2015:1990: 169 salmon1991: 187 salmon2005: 88 salmon2015: 256 salmonSource: Salmon River Restoration Council
With recent fish counting surveys on two Klamath River tributaries showing alarmingly low numbers for one of the last wild Chinook salmon runs, local fisheries experts are growing increasingly concerned about the effects of the ongoing statewide drought and the possibility of a devastating fish kill in the near future when fall-run salmon begin to enter the system.A survey sponsored by the Salmon River Restoration Council and U.S. Forest Service that covered the entirety of the Salmon River found only 256 adult Chinook salmon on July 24 — the fourth lowest count in 20 years and a large deviation from the some of the highest counts from recent years.
“When you’re hand counting a few hundred individual fish,” Karuk Tribe Natural Resources Policy Advocate Craig Tucker said with a dry laugh, “you’re in big trouble.”The South Fork Trinity River is also showing a low presence of wild Chinook salmon adults, with the Hayfork-based Watershed Research and Training Center only finding 20 fish in a 60-mile survey of the river earlier this month — the lowest number since 1989.The center’s Executive Director Joshua Smith said that their survey is normally performed in mid-August, but said it was done earlier this year out of concern of the mortality of the fish caused by low-flow conditions and high water temperatures.
“In the 1960s, they had 10,000 to 12,000 Chinook in the South Fork Trinity alone,” he said. “They were tagging 200 fish per hole. Now we have 200 fish on average per year in the last decade. There’s been a few little spikes, but we’re really on the ragged edge.”
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is set to conduct a formal survey of the river next week, Smith said.
Fisheries experts are not certain why the tributaries have such a low salmon population this year, but say that some of the fish are likely “trapped” on the lower Klamath River trying to find cooler waters from creeks and tributaries.
What makes this even more alarming is that a deadly parasite called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, or “ich,” was found on a sample of spring-run Chinook salmon last week at the mouth of Blue Creek on the lower Klamath River.With high water temperatures making fish more susceptible to the parasite and other diseases, senior fisheries biologist Michael Belchik of the Yurok Tribe’s fisheries program said the current heat wave in eastern areas of the county like Orleans where temperatures climbed above 110 degrees are only making matters worse for the fish.
However, recent surveys show that the ich is not spreading exponentially as it did in September 2002, which resulted in a fish-kill of tens of thousands of salmon and steelhead trout on the lower Klamath River.“It’s still a cause for concern because this disease has a really explosive potential,” Belchik said. “We have seen it five weeks earlier than last year.”If conditions do not change by early fall and the ich begins to spread, Tucker said such conditions could spell trouble for the 120,000 fall-run Chinook salmon expected to enter the lower Klamath River this year.
“When the fall-run salmon show up, the ich is already there waiting for them,” Tucker said.When adult Chinook salmon are ready to spawn, they leave their ocean abode and travel back to the freshwater locations they were born in order to spawn a new generation. Depending on when and where they were born, the salmon enter the waters at different times of the year, thus giving them the titles such as “spring-run” or “fall-run.” Spring-run salmon on the lower Klamath enter the river around April when the river is normally flush with snow-melt. These fish then find cool, deep pools to wait out the summer months in before spawning around September, Belchik said.
Tucker said that before a series of dams were built on the Klamath River, salmon would travel as far as Oregon to wait out the summer heat.But with the upper reaches of the Klamath cut off, Belchik said that the Salmon River is one of the last remaining strongholds for the last wild populations of Chinook salmon, with the Trinity River containing both hatchery and wild populations.While there is likely not a single cause to this year’s low population, fisheries biologists agree that the ongoing four-year drought is a major contributing factor and concern.
Belchik said that the drought conditions from 2010 and 2011 may have affected the survival juvenile salmon, and in turn may have led to a smaller population of spawning adults.Salmon River Restoration Council Executive Director Joshua Saxon said that the low flows on the Klamath River caused by a lack of snow melt may be causing some salmon to find whatever cool water they can get regardless of whether it’s far enough upriver.“They are basically stalled on these cold water tribs,” he said.Many are looking to Klamath and Trinity river dams as solutions to some of these issues. Water releases from Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River have helped stave off possible ich outbreaks on the lower Klamath River over the last three years.
Currently, the Hoopa Valley Tribe with support of the Yurok Tribe have called for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to release 63,000 acre-feet of water from the dam to prevent a possible fish kill this year.The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors also requested the county’s federally promised 50,000 acre-feet of Trinity River water from the bureau to be used to prevent a fish kill.Smith said such a release would come too late to help any spring-run salmon, but would benefit the fall-run population.
A set of water use agreements between farmers, tribes and governments on the Klamath Basin includes the removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River and is also seen as a method to help recover the salmon populations.However, the three agreements encompassed in Senate Bill 133 have been stalled in Congress since January after being referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.After the results of this survey, Saxon hopes that federal environmental agencies will formally recognize these spring-run Chinook salmon as a possible threatened species under the Endangered Species Act as salmon populations in other parts of the state are.
“I think it’s a wake-up call,” he said. “It’s a wake-up call to the managing agencies that they’re not doing anything for these fish because they’re not ESA listed.”Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.
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