Trapped fish dying in droves
By Greg Kane
Record Staff Writer
Published Thursday, April 21, 2005
STOCKTON -- The Calaveras River
west of Highway 99 is mostly dry,
yet thousands of fish -- including
endangered steelhead -- survive in
the tiny pools that remain along
the channel's bed.
They won't live long.
Workers from the nonprofit Fishery
Foundation of California on
Wednesday dragged nets through a
series of pools to document the
different types of fish left in
the channel after irrigation dams
choked the river's flow last week.
The three-man crew found at least
17 different species during the
early-afternoon search, including
more than a dozen steelhead, a
threatened species in the Central
"You'll find almost every species
in the Delta in here," said Damian
Teixeira, one of the foundation
workers. "It's amazing."
The pools were left behind when
the Stockton East Water District
closed the water flow into the
narrow channel last week. The
district had released more water
than usual into the Calaveras from
New Hogan Dam during the winter
after the region was hit with high
amounts of rainfall, said Kevin
Kauffman, the district's general
Though they could count and
monitor what they found in the
nets, the workers weren't allowed
to rescue the fish by taking them
to another tributary. That would
require a special permit, said
Chris Pocoroba, one of the
"If they're dead, we can take
them," he said. "If not, we have
to wait for them to die."
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More than two dozen wooden boards,
used to block the normal flow of
water, were placed along the
Calaveras starting around April 9,
Kauffman said. The idea is to
conserve water for the upcoming
Thousands of fish travelling along
the channel, however, were trapped
when the river went dry. Kevin
Melanephy, a foundation worker
documenting the length and species
of fish caught in the ponds, said
most would be left to die when the
remaining puddles evaporate during
the next week.
"All of these fish are dying,"
Melanephy said. "No more water is
going to come to wash them to the
It is an annual process that
occurs each spring, when the water
district installs the boards,
called flashboard weirs, said
Trevor Kennedy, a project manager
for the Fisheries Foundation. More
fish seem to have been left behind
this year, he said, likely because
the wet winter allowed the
Calaveras to flow uninterrupted
the entire season.
"The river stayed connected pretty
much the entire year," Kennedy
Some say the water district
disregarded the wildlife in the
river when it reduced the flows.
Bill Jennings, the head of the
water watchdog group DeltaKeeper,
believes the district violated
state code by taking the water
levels back too quickly.
Kauffman said the only requirement
for reducing flow into channels
involves periods where the waters
are at flood levels.
The district violated no laws when
it installed the flashboard weirs
last week, he said.
The workers used a large green net
to pull as many fish as possible
from the remaining puddles, which
were as deep as a foot in some
areas and around 20 feet long.
They then hunched over the
flapping bounty to count and
document everything from foot-long
carp to tiny catfish and bass.
They also found nearly a dozen
small steelhead, the ocean-bound
trout known for their silvery
skin, and some juvenile salmon.
Kennedy said it's important to
monitor the number of rare fish
that are stranded when the water
levels are taken back to prevent
the strandings from happening in
"A lot of people don't know this
is happening," Kennedy said.
"That's why we're out there."
Kauffman said the district and
various agencies, such as the
state Department of Fish and Game,
have worked for years on a habitat
conservation plan for the river.
Such a plan would likely require
the district to install fish
screens at New Hogan Dam but allow
some rare fish to be killed.
- To reach reporter Greg Kane,
phone (209) 546-8276 or e-mail