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PD Editorial: Healthy signs of a growing salmon fishery

  • Ken Leister loads coho salmon fingerlings into plastics container backpacks to carry up Devil Creek, a tributary of Austin Creek, which flows into the Russian River at Duncans Mills.

Sonoma County has witnessed pitched political battles over vineyard and stream management, mostly in the name of preserving endangered salmon.

So it's been gratifying to read some success stories over the past several months.

In the fall, the Sonoma County Water Agency reported the largest chinook salmon run on the Russian River in four years. Meanwhile, the state Department of Fish and Game was counting more returning salmon at Van Arsdale dam on the Eel River than in any year since tracking began back in 1945. There also was an excellent return on the Sacramento River, some twentyfold better than 2009's record low.

As a result, it wasn't a big surprise in May when the National Marine Fisheries Service approved the first, full commercial salmon fishing season for Northern California since 2007.

Yet another success story comes from Devil Creek, a stream in northwestern Sonoma County where biologists have been working to restore a historic coho salmon run.

As Staff Writer Clark Mason reported on Wednesday, scientists took some of the last remaining wild coho from Russian River tributaries about a decade ago to start a breeding program at the hatchery at Warm Springs Dam.

The fish were bred, and their offspring were tagged and released into a dozen creeks that flow to the Russian River.

Salmon mature in fresh water before going to sea, then they complete their life cycle by returning to spawn in fresh water. About 200 returning coho were counted last winter in the Russian River, and scientists say 89 returned to spawn naturally in Devil Creek, where biologists released about 4,000 juvenile salmon from the hatchery this week.

"We're trying to get enough wild population out here so we don't have to stock the fish," Peter LaCivita, a fishery biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers, told Mason.

The corps is being assisted by the California Conservation Corps and Nancy Summers and her husband, Peter Gruchawka, of Kenwood, who own the land along Devil Creek and have created the nation's first conservation bank for coho salmon.

From small creek restoration projects such as this one to the removal of hydroelectric dams that have cut off spawning grounds, steps are being taken to restore West Coast salmon fisheries. The results are encouraging, but much work remains to be done.


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