by Gregory Andrew
I recently had the honor of travelling to Sacramento to present testimony to the Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, who held a hearing on the status of imperiled coho salmon in California. The hearing, entitled Coho Salmon on the Brink: Understanding the Depth of the Crisis and Recovery Strategies, was called by Committee Chair Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (First Assembly District). I was one of thirty speakers who presented testimony on the status of coho, the factors that have led to their dramatic decline, and the actions that are being taken to recover the populations. Unfortunately, it was a pretty gloomy picture with almost no good news about the status of coho.
Coho salmon spawn and rear in coastal streams from Alaska down to Monterey County. They live for about a year and a half in the stream and then migrate to the ocean, where they mature into adults, and then return again to their home stream at three years old, where they spawn and then die. Because of their life history, coho are tracked in three-year intervals—fish born three years apart are considered part of the same “year class.”
By our good fortune, Lagunitas Creek has supported one of the largest and most stable populations of coho in the state, but here, too, the coho population has plummeted over the past three years. Where just six years ago we saw over 1,300 adult coho return to spawn, we have seen less than 200 in each of the past three years, and as few as 43 adults in 2008/09. In my testimony, where I could I did try to be positive about the prospects for coho. I made the point that we have seen the coho in Lagunitas Creek show an ability to recover from relatively low numbers. For example, we have documented one year class of coho increase from 360 adults in 1995/96 to over 1,300 in 2004/05, even though that year class is back down to very low numbers now.
The hearing was informational only but the Committee had asked for concise recommendations that the Legislature could take to recover coho populations before they go extinct. My conclusions and recommendations included:
- Coho populations have declined sharply and are influenced by many phenomena, including ocean conditions, floods, access to habitat and habitat quality.
- Habitat enhancement efforts, throughout the watershed, stand the best chance of increasing coho populations and preventing their extinction.
- Right now, time is not on our side. Coho have come to the brink of extinction, but they can recover.
- Impediments to restoration MUST be broken down to get restoration projects in place sooner: State and federal permitting should be streamlined, and the funding process needs to be shortened.
- The state has been very active and should continue to lead and support restoration efforts.
The hearing was recorded and can be viewed at these links:
Part 1: http://www.calchannel.com/channel/viewVideo/2906 – My testimony comes at about the one hour, fifty minute mark of this recording (1:50).
Part 2: http://www.calchannel.com/channel/viewvideo/2907
Part 3: http://www.calchannel.com/channel/viewvideo/2930
Part 4: http://www.calchannel.com/channel/viewVideo/2931
Part 5: http://www.calchannel.com/channel/viewVideo/2932