Endangered coho salmon have been spotted in Marin County for the first time in 18 years

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At first, barely visible under the rippling waters of Montezuma Creek in Forest Knolls, the bright red tail of a coho salmon suddenly emerged, splashing the surface as it swam upstream.

The recent sighting by Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) biologist Ayano Hayes was a milestone for the Bay Area, marking the first time the endangered fish have been spotted in the valley’s small tributary. of San Geronimo in Marin County since 2004.

“It’s extremely exciting and it’s the result of big storms that have left coho salmon moving through culverts under roads which are a barrier to migration under lower flows,” Hayes said in a statement. .

The biologist also discovered salmon in Arroyo, Woodacre and Larsen creeks, where they had not been seen since 2006.

The species has experienced a “serious decline” since the mid-20th century, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, due to threats such as habitat loss, overexploitation (which occurs when more fish are harvested). beyond the species’ ability to repopulate), interaction with hatchery-reared fish and climatic factors such as lack of precipitation. In recent years, the coho salmon that typically spawned in the creeks between the Golden Gate and Monterey Bay have been stranded by sandbanks due to drought. They have been threatened with extinction over much of their range.

“It may already be too late,” Stafford Lehr, chief fisheries officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Chronicle in 2014. “The central coast coho may have moved south of the Golden Gate. . “

The spawning season is usually in December and January, and although thousands of coho salmon once made their way to the Bay Area, only “a few hundred” now return each year, according to SPAWN.


Even these numbers are encouraging, however.

“The endangered coho salmon is on the verge of extinction, but one of California’s largest populations is within 35 minutes of the Golden Gate Bridge,” SPAWN wrote in a statement.

The organization attributes this year’s success in part to the removal of a dam on the old San Geronimo Valley golf course in 2021, allowing salmon to migrate more easily into the upper watershed; Chinook salmon were recently documented in Woodacre Creek for the very first time.

Preston Brown, SPAWN conservation director, also noted the concentration of precipitation in recent months, which “must be fair to allow fish to jump and swim through artificial culverts which concentrate flow and increase speed.”

And although the recovery is slow, biologists are optimistic.

“We can bring Marin salmon back to the brink of extinction if we care enough about protecting and restoring habitat,” said Todd Steiner, Founder and Executive Director of SPAWN. “We have the know-how and state and federal agencies have offered the resources. For our local elected officials, it is about having the courage to adopt regulations that will protect the habitat that the fish need to survive for our children and grandchildren.

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