Coho salmon return to west Marin County watershed

There's a lively, hopeful display underway these days along Lagunitas Creek in west Marin County, where the return of winter rains has drawn endangered coho salmon up into the stream to spawn.

After decades of watching Central California Coast coho stock diminish, it's heartening to know 3-year-old fish have found their way back home to reproduce and keep the species going at least a while longer.

Environmentalist Richard James, who blogs as “The Coastodian” when not patrolling ocean beaches and coastal waterways for trash, shot this beautiful footage of male salmon jousting and vying for dominance and the chance to fertilize the eggs of a future generation. “Goofy behavior by males is not limited to humans!” he wrote jestingly last week.

Staff at Point Reyes National Seashore say January is the best month to view spawning coho and threatened steelhead trout, though observers must be quiet, cautious and respectful to not disturb the delicate dance needed to ensure the species' survival.

The Central California Coast run of coho, which is a genetically distinct run, ranges from the Santa Cruz area on the south to the Russian River on the north. Reclassified “threatened” to “endangered” in 2005, it has been identified by the National Marine Fisheries Service as among the eight species most at-risk of extinction and the focus of a wide range of conservation efforts.

Lagunitas Creek, which joins the ocean at Tomales Bay, and its tributaries are considered critical spawning and rearing grounds for coho.

After a dry December, recent rainfall has filled the watershed with fresh, clear water that accounts for the appearance of spawning-age coho in recent days.

Farther south, biologists are working to take advantage of good conditions at Redwood Creek, which has seen diminishing returns in recent decades, with fewer than 10 adult coho estimated to have entered the creek before 2014, according to Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Biologists with the agency and with the National Park Service/Golden Gate National Recreation Area released nearly 200 hatchery-raised coho adults into the creek near its mouth at Muir Beach Friday, hoping they'll head upstream and help sustain the species.

The mature fish were raised from 6- to 8-month juveniles collected in Redwood Creek in the summer of 2015 and reared at the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery at Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma. A similar release was made in the winter of 2016 and is planned for next winter.

James photographed the Lagunitas Creek salmon from the Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area near Shafter Bridge and Samuel P. Taylor State Park on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

But Devil's Gulch and Camp Taylor, located inside the state park, also offer viewing opportunities, park officials said.

James suggests wearing muted colors and using binoculars to avoid disturbing the fish. Visitors also should stay on paved areas and leave pets at home when they view the spawning grounds.

The Salmon Protection And Watershed Network, or SPAWN, also is hosting the last in its seasonal Creekwalks series on Saturday, Jan. 20 at noon. Participants will visit several viewing sites at Samuel P. Talor Park. Registration is required at Suggested donation is $35.

James' photos, video and blog entries can be found at

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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