Drought brings double dose of damage to Coho salmon

Wayne Freedman Image
ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Drought threatens salmon population
The drought is threatening to bring a double dose of damage to the state's salmon population.

HEALDSBURG, Calif. (KGO) -- The drought is doing double damage to the state's salmon population. The lack of water is not only hindering spawning, it's threatening the fish who actually made it up river.

ABC7 News hasn't seen the Russian River this low in the 30 years of covering stories in Healdsburg.

It's a contradiction to the natural order of things but it's necessary. A net spread across a creek. A pipe leading to a trap and inside of it were tiny little fish.

For biologists from the University of California and California Sea Grant, this is a daily ritual along Mill Creek near Healdsburg.

"On a good day we get upwards of a two hundred," said fish biologist Nick Bauer.

A good day in a bad time, we should add, for California's endangered Coho salmon now in a drought.

"What we are trying to do is count and see how many survived on the way to the ocean," said UC San Diego biologist Mariska Obedzinski.

Obedzinski is a biologist with the UC San Diego and California Sea Grant,

It's a battle to save the smelt. They are one year old Coho salmon, almost all of them from state hatcheries, in a race this year against a drought that threatens to dry out their streams and landlock them.

"They cannot access the ocean. And so if they can't get out they are going to die. Then we lose that year of fish," said Obedzinski.

The team pulled about 50 smelt from the stream. Little fish that to the bucket, then through a series of measurements for length and weight.

They then take a snip from the tail to catalogue the DNA for past and future reference.

Of all the fish the pulled, only one came here by natural means. And he got special treatment.

"We will put a tag on him so we can track him and see if he comes back as an adult," said Obedzinski.

When the count ended, they put him back in a bucket with the rest, then carried them downstream and hastened them along.

These are the lucky ones that have beaten the drought, so far at least.