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Possible options for coho recovery discussed at Shasta-Scott meeting
By David Smith, Siskiyou Daily News 3/26/10
Yreka, Calif. - A number of agency representatives and individuals filled the Siskiyou County Public Works conference room Thursday as the Shasta-Scott Recovery Team (SSRT) met to “discuss potential emergency recovery measures for coho in the Shasta, and to devise a strategy to address potential low flows in fall 2010.”
The SSRT is composed of individuals representing a wide array of organizations, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), Save Our Shasta and Scott Valleys, Cal Trout and the various resource conservation districts and watershed councils, among others.
According to the various members, the SSRT was created through the DFG’s Fish and Game Commission as a voluntary group that could inform and develop a recovery strategy for Coho salmon in the Scott and Shasta rivers.
Along with the introductions of everyone in the room, facilitator Jim Nelson had each person suggest a one-word summation of what he or she would like to see practiced at the meeting. The words generated ranged from “listen” to “flexibility” and included urgency, communication, dedication, voluntary, reasonable, balance and progress.
Mark Pisano, DFG senior fishery biologist, addressed the first topic of the day – options for implementing emergency recovery measures for coho in the Shasta in the spring of 2010 – with a PowerPoint presentation and with input from Jim Simondet, fisheries biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
Pisano showed a graphical representation of the numbers of returning adult coho in the Shasta River that had been counted by the DFG in the past decade. The counts varied from 291 to 69 in 2001 and 2005 and 255 in 2007, to as few as 9 in 2009, according to Pisano. He showed that in four of the past five years, less than 70 returning adult coho were counted.
A number of conditions have impacted the coho, Pisano said, including water and land changes through development, as well as oceanic changes and other variations outside of the local watersheds. He added that over the past decade, a number of measures have been taken to try to improve fish habitat and passage, including the planting of vegetation in riparian areas, where land and stream merge, and the use of fencing to exclude livestock from salmon spawning grounds, among other measures.
One continuing problem, according to Pisano, is the juvenile cohos’ exposure to disease in the mainstem Klamath River, including the ceratomyxa shasta and parvicapsula minibicornis pathogens. He said that one study group of coho in 2009 had shown a 90 percent infection rate for diseases, explaining that higher water temperatures and increased exposure times can increase infection rates.
Another factor that exacerbates the situation, Pisano said, is the lack of “scouring flows” in dry water years. Those flows, he explained, can flush certain worms from the river bed that transfer the diseases to the fish.
After describing the problems, Pisano gave a number of possible options for trying to restore the populations. He stated that one long-term solution would be the establishment of a conservation hatchery for the Shasta coho, utilizing either an existing hatchery or building a new facility on the Shasta River itself.
Pisano said that another option would be a “trap and rear” strategy, in which the fish could be held through a given life stage and then released back to the wild in order to reduce exposure to disease or predation, depending on the specified life stage of the salmon.
A third strategy, according to Pisano, would be the capture and transportation of coho smolts, the life stage in which the salmon physiologically changes to adapt to salt water and begins its journey to the sea. He explained that the fish would be captured and transported below known “disease hot spots” in the river to reduce their exposure.
Other measures, Pisano said, include the identification and remediation of negative impacts to the water quality and quantity in salmon habitat and the creation of a working group that could develop and possibly implement long-term conservation strategies.
Describing the facets of achieving the possible strategies, Pisano stated that he feels that the most cost-effective short-term strategy is the capture and transport of the salmon below the hot spots. He explained that the fish could be captured using “screw trap” technology and tagged with Passive Integrated Transponders (PITs) in order to monitor the number of outmigrating smolts that survive and return to the Shasta River.
Simondet added at the end of Pisano’s presentation that the NMFS shares the DFG’s concerns about the Shasta coho, explaining that even in higher return years the numbers are “far below” what would constitute a viable population.
Simondet said that the declining population has been a problem for a long time and he feels restoration efforts “have to be realistic for short-term goals.” Continuing, he stated that he believes that the trap and haul strategy is consistent with the state’s coho recovery plan.
The meeting featured a number of comments and questions from the public, as well as more presentations on problems facing coho and possible solutions, all of which will appear in the Siskiyou Daily News.
Page Updated: Saturday March 27, 2010 12:54 AM Pacific
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