Biologists are growing increasingly concerned with the effects of drought on California’s freshwater fish, especially coho salmon. Droughts can spell disaster for most species of salmon, which depend on rivers and streams for spawning. According to the San Jose Mercury Times, low water levels are stranding the fish and preventing them from reaching their spawning grounds.
“We’re sitting on pins and needles looking at the long-term weather forecast and it’s not looking good,” said fisheries biologist Jon Ambrose.
Anglers are reporting coho salmon trapped by dry creekbeds, which are too low to facilitate the annual surge to the fish’s native streams. While steelhead are also affected by the water shortage, it may be the endangered coho that bears the brunt of the dry spell. Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife say that the drought may leave a lasting mark on the state’s coho population.
“It may already be too late. The Central Coast coho could be gone south of the Golden Gate,” fisheries chief Stafford Lehr told the San Francisco Chronicle.
If the already-diminished coho population in California is unable to reach its spawning grounds, it could mean that the species will disappear entirely from much of the state. Once widespread across the North Pacific Ocean, coho salmon are now endangered in Northern California. Despite conservation efforts, a severe drought may be the final straw for the state’s coho.
“The adults are having trouble getting in and the juveniles that hatched last year are trapped in streams that are drying up,” Ambrose said. “Fish need water. If they don’t have water, they can’t go walk somewhere else. So we are in somewhat of a crisis mode right now, and we don’t have a whole lot of options.”
Despite concerns, the situation might not be as bleak as it seems. Steelhead are expected to weather the drought and the Scott Creek hatchery in Santa Cruz will be able to keep coho in California waters, although vastly reduced from current numbers. For optimists, heavy rains could still mean salvation for the fish, even if it appears unlikely. The National Weather Service stated that isolated rain across in parts of California may be possible, giving some a welcome relief from the drought.
Image courtesy National Park Service