Marin coho salmon and steelhead, do they have value?

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Monitoring, studying and protecting salmon and steelhead are what brought me north to the wild and quirky climes of West Marin. Even before moving here I was observing and recording images of them laying eggs before they die.

Coho eggs from a female likely killed by a river otter.

Steelhead eggs still in the skein, Redwood Creek – Muir Woods.

Coho and Steelhead young of the year – Redwood Creek, Muir Woods.

Since moving here I’ve seen firsthand the friction created when humans and their activities express themselves in an ecosystem in which greed has no meaning. An innkeeper from San Geronimo Valley that has for years been moving fish from Sonoma waters to “his” fish pool on San Geronimo Creek. Environmental groups that move fish within a creek system to save them from certain death in drying pools, and possibly from other waters for the same reason. The same enviro-groups’ leader(s) seemingly flaunt the same construction rules they hold creek-side dwellers to with great fervor. (This sort of hypocrisy I have noticed is common in West Marin environmental committees and clubs)

Humans care about how big their house is and what “value” it will have when they go to sell it or transfer it to their offspring.

I do not know if salmon care. I do know the females expend great effort to find and prepare the right spot to place their future offspring’s embryos. A place whose gravel has not been mined or covered with silt from clear-cut forestry or creek-side development and road-cutting. She seeks a place where the riparian foliage is present and will keep the water cool. The same water that has hopefully not been impounded by a dam, or pumped far and wide to nourish alfalfa or other crops in what historically was a desert. The same water that is, water; not tainted with pesticides, herbicides, plastic softening agents or fire-proofing treatment, for example.

We all live in a watershed. Everywhere the rain soaks into the ground, attempting to find the nearest creek or river so it can return to the sea and someday fall as rain once again. Those that live nearest, or on the creek often complain of the rules being adopted to attempt to slow the decades of damage humans have wrought upon the arteries of the land.

Those closest to the banks most directly enjoy the benefits of a healthy creek. The same that can most directly damage that same creek with ignorant practices. I wonder if the rare and gravid female coho, struggling upstream looking for just the right sized cobbles, the cold, unpolluted water, the woody debris for her and her spawn to hide under, has any sense of what “property values” are?

Put another way, How does the value of property compare to the value of not going extinct?

Surely we can live simply and within the carrying capacity of this fragile planet so that we are not the last to enjoy her diverse beauty.

Coho and Steelhead young of the year

From 2004 through 2010 I assisted the NPS with monitoring of all phases of the salmonid attempt to escape extinction. I learned a great deal about the life-cycle of these gorgeous creatures as I labored alongside a number of gifted and determined professionals.

Coho smolt

Steelhead smolt

Coho smolts

Steelhead from Scott Creek, Santa Cruz county

Below are a variety of video clips I have gathered. The first clip is some of the finest spawning footage I have recorded so far and was shown in a previous post. The rest are from previous years. I also include a clip showing rainbow/golden trout hybrids spawning on a high elevation (~11,000 ft ASL) lake in Kings Canyon National Park.

Steelhead caudal fin – Redwood Creek, Muir Woods

I hope you enjoy the fruits of my years of enjoying these fish firsthand. I also hope after watching them in action you’ll be inspired to contribute to their survival so that those that come after us can see and enjoy the offspring of these fish.

Coho below Peters dam at Leo T. Cronin viewing pools – 9 December, 2012
Coho on Lagunitas Creek, Samuel P. Taylor Park – 10 December, 2010
Coho on Lagunitas Creek, Samuel P. Taylor Park – 10 December, 2010
Coho below Peters dam at Leo T. Cronin viewing pools – 10 December, 2009
Coho on Lagunitas Creek below the inkwells – 14 December, 2009
Coho below Peters dam at Leo T. Cronin viewing pools – 6 December, 2005

Rainbow trout and golden x rainbow hybrids spawning on lake at 11,000ft. in Kings Canyon National Park – 9 July, 2009

Male coho salmon remains – Olema Creek

The end of two species of rare fish

Coho salmon spawning, wheel of life turning before our eyes

Click on the title of this post to read it and see a related header image.

If litter on the beach saddens me, which it does, the return of salmon and steelhead to spawn in our local creeks makes me happy.

Coho, party of two your gravel is ready. Coho party of two.

Red male and darker female coho salmon spawning on Lagunitas Creek, 9 Decmber, 2012 ©Richard James

Fish that were eggs three years ago are now returning to lay eggs, usually in the very same creek they themselves hatched in. Once this task is done, the fish will linger until they die. This could be a few days or a couple weeks depending on the condition of the fish, the presence of predators as well as water levels.

Female coho carry about three thousand eggs. If 2 percent make it to adulthood and spawn 3 years from now, that is considered a huge success.

The ten minute video you can watch below was shot on Lagunitas Creek near the Leo Cronin viewing pools in Samuel Taylor Park. I apologize for the intrusive title. I must be doing something right as my work is being used without my permission more and more. Marking it ensures I am credited for my efforts. If you’d like to license my work for your use, contact me at Financial support allows me to continue documenting our natural world and hopefully galvanize mindful action to protect it from us.

If you want to see spawning salmon in person, now is the time.

For the best chance at seeing fish here are some tips:

1) Quiet. Keep voices down, the fish can hear you and will spook off their redds (nests) if you are too loud.

2) Dress in neutral or darker colors, nothing flashy or bright, they can see you too.

3) Be still. Lots of movement will also scare them off the redd.

4) Bring polarized sun-glasses to cut the glare on the water. Binoculars are good too.

5) Leave pets at home. Barking dogs and lots of movement distracts fish from this most important task

6) Ideally, view fish from just downstream if you can, that way they are less likely to see you and your time to view them will be greater.

Click the full screen icon in the lower right corner of the video window and spend some time in nature.