CALIFORNIA: Endangered Salmon Return to Old Spawning Grounds

FOREST KNOLLS, California, January 18, 2022 (ENS) – Endangered coho salmon are swimming up from the sea into the small tributaries of California’s San Geronimo Valley for the first time in many years, helped by the heavy rains of December and January, conservationists have discovered.

The San Geronimo Valley, located just north of San Francisco in western Marin County, hosts one of the last populations of endangered coho salmon on the central California coast, as well as the threatened steelhead trout.

Ayano Hayes, the watershed biologist for the Salmon Protection And Watershed Network, SPAWN, a program of Turtle Island Restoration Network has found coho salmon this year in Montezuma Creek, Larsen Creek, Arroyo Creek and Woodacre Creek so far this year.

According to SPAWN’s records, no coho have been seen in Montezuma Creek since the winter of 2004, and none in Larsen Creek since winter 2006. This week, Hayes saw both coho salmon and steelhead trout in those waterways. Heavy rains have allowed salmon to navigate into creeks that are often not passable by road culverts.

“It is amazing to see these giant two-foot fish in the small creeks, some no wider than than six feet wide. This is extremely exciting and is the result of big storms that have let coho salmon maneuver through culverts under roads that are a barrier to migration under lower flows,” Hayes said.

SPAWN’s Conservation Director Preston Brown says total annual rainfall is important, but the amount that falls over a short period is equally important, and opens up salmon habitat in the San Geronimo Valley,

“Rainfall has to be just right to allow fish to jump into and swim through artificial culverts that concentrate flow and increase velocity,” Brown said.

SPAWN protects endangered wild coho salmon and the forests and watersheds they need to survive in West Marin County, California.

Todd Steiner, SPAWN’s founder and executive director, said, “This spawning season demonstrates the importance of the San Geronimo Valley and its tributaries to the recovery of coho salmon and steelhead trout in Marin. We need to protect creekside habitat, limit construction of new impervious surfaces, and continue to remove all barriers to fish migration by replacing our old culverts, many decades old and in need of repair with fish-friendly culverts.”

SPAWN completed the removal of a dam on the former San Geronimo Valley golf course last year, allowing salmon to migrate into the upper watershed more easily.

The red blur in this video of California’s Montezuma Creek is an endangered coho salmon swimming up from the sea to spawn. December 30, 2021. See the video from Salmon Protection And Watershed Network’s Facebook page.

Throughout the San Geronimo Valley, residents are amazed to see salmon in their tiny backyard creeks for the first time in decades.

Brian Staley, a resident of Woodacre since 1987, said, “For the first time I have seen in my lifetime, salmon are spawning as far up the watershed as the end of Oak Grove Avenue. Big healthy animals are a fantastic thing to see!”

A video posted on Nextdoor shows large red coho salmon on an unnamed tributary of Woodacre Creek, with the comment, “In Woodacre this morning! First time we’ve seen them in the 15 years we’ve lived here, pretty rad!!”

“It was a joy to see coho spawning in the newly completed restoration project site during the planting events we held with volunteers throughout December,” said Audrey Fusco, SPAWN’s plant ecologist and nursery manager.

Removal of the dam, coupled with the similar heavy storms in December, allowed Chinook salmon, also made it possible for King salmon to enter Woodacre Creek.

“We can bring back the salmon of Marin from the brink of extinction if we care enough to protect and restore habitat,” said SPAWN’s executive director Steiner. “We have the know-how and the state and federal agencies have offered the resources. It boils down to our local elected officials having the courage to enact the regulations that will protect the habitat the fish need to survive for our children and grandchildren.”

Featured image: Two male coho salmon fight to fertilize the eggs of a female. Lagunitas Creek, Marin County, California, January 8, 2016. (Photo by Peg Hunter)

Continue Reading