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Team rescues trapped steelhead trout in dried up creeks

Rescue teams worked hard around the state to save steelhead trout, endangered by the continuing drought.
Rescue teams worked hard around the state to save steelhead trout, endangered by the continuing drought. The trout have been trapped in creeks and streams that are drying up. The idea was to relocate trout from Uvas Creek in Gilroy to the nearby reservoir, but the mission didn't quite go as planned.

Uvas Creek is not easy to reach. Private property owners give permission for the rescue team to get access. To get to the creek, it's like taking a hike through some really rough brush. There's poison oak, along with lots of stickers and, of course, not cut path.

But once there, the biologists and volunteers wade in to find the stranded steelhead trout. One of them has a 30-pound backpack that is an electroshock unit to help with the process. The trout are stunned temporarily to make them easier to net. But they can also be very good at hiding, which makes the process challenging.

"They tend to go to the side of the stream and hide under logs, big rocks and what not. You can leave and come back and find them in the same spot you left them. They pretty much have their hiding places chosen," National Fisheries biologist Joel Casagrande said.

Drought conditions have caused the creek to dry up in spots and stopping the natural flow. And flow is important for the steelhead to survive.

"In the summertime if this were a full reservoir, there'd be a lot of water, a lot of fast water, and they would line up in the stream kind of like a conveyor belt and feed on the stuff coming down. This conveyor belt's not moving at this flow," said San Jose State University biologist Jack Smith, Ph.D.

While Smith and Casagrande are biologists, Herman Garcia is a volunteer. He is president of CHEER, an acronym for Coastal Habitat Education and Environmental Restoration.

Despite hours of searching, the team walked away with only one juvenile steelhead trout. Herman can only assume that two winter storms let the other trout escape.

"I'm very confident that the second time the creek system connected that they out-migrated immediately, so the fact that we're not find them isn't of any big concern," Garcia said.

One trout found is one trout saved, and it was promptly released upstream. Dozens of similar rescue operations are planned statewide in the coming weeks.
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