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Bucket brigade seeks to revive Dry Creek with salmon pellets

  • Geyserville Middle School student Joseph Ford, 13, gathers a handful of pellets made from salmon carcasses into Dry Creek near the Warm Springs Dam on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. The pellets are designed by AquaDine of Healdsburg to mimic decaying salmon occurring in a natural run.

They're less slimy, and certainly less smelly, than a fish carcass would be. But the dry, brown pellets that biologists distributed Tuesday in a backwater channel of Dry Creek may prove to be the vitamin that once-prolific North Coast salmon streams need.

The goal is to simulate the nutritional boost that used to come from the decaying remains of adult fish, a critical natural supplement for coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and other wildlife.

The approach has shown promise in the Columbia River watershed over the past few years. It produced benefits last year in several tributaries of Sonoma County's Austin Creek.

Dry Creek Fish Food

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"This could be a piece in the missing puzzle of recovery," said Bob Coey, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The agency was among several — including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Russian River Wild Steelhead Society — that participated Tuesday in seeding a restored area of Dry Creek just south of the Warm Springs Dam with about 125 pounds of the salmon-meal pellets.

About two dozen Geyserville Middle School students also took part in honor of Earth Day, lobbing the pellets into a man-made channel designed to slow the current and enhance the survival of juvenile salmon.

"I didn't realize there was that much of a problem," said one student, Benjamin Paine, 13.

The pellets, which resemble hardened chunks of sausage, are manufactured in Sonoma County by AquaDine, a Healdsburg fish-food company.

Made from bits of salmon tissue left over from commercial seafood processing, they are formulated for seeding creeks and rivers that once hosted abundant spawning runs.

Over thousands of years, those wild runs left behind carcasses rich in nutrients derived from the ocean, where adult salmon and steelhead spend most of their days. Juvenile fish relied on those nutrients to support their food chain, including insects and other invertebrates.


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