East Fork SOS: Where Have all the Fish and Anglers Gone?
By Tom Walsh
President, Fisheries Resource Volunteer Corps
Repetitive comments from anglers, who have fished the East Fork of the San Gabriel River over the past five years, have indicated that there are no fish left. Based on 1,261 CDFW Angler Surveys over the past 15 years, anglers reported catching 10,901 fish. However, during the past five years only 777 fish have been caught, with only 11 being caught in the past two years.
What are the reasons for this significant decrease? Over the past five-to-12 years there are a number of events that have contributed to the loss of this fishery:
— 2005 – Twelve-year drought reduced total rainfall by 43.6 inches (3.6 inches/year) below 140-year season average.
— 2008 – Downturn in the economy brought an increase in encampments to the East Fork backcountry.
— 2008 – Price of gold hit all time high increasing from $769/oz. in 2007 to a high of $1,987/oz. in 2011.
— 2008 – Began removal of 20,000 tamarisk plants (One plant consumes up to 200 gallons of water per day)
— 2010 – California Department of Fish and Wildlife terminated fish plants on East and West forks to abide with court ruling.
— 2014 – High rain event on Aug. 3 bought significant amount of sediment downstream with large fish kill.
Of all of these events, the mining activity has been the most damaging, which has increased significantly, with the rise in gold prices, the promotion by mining guides via social media and the lack of enforcement of the mining prohibition.
The negative impacts to the stream and its riparian areas resulting from the mining activities are numerous. Large amounts of material in the stream and riparian areas are being moved to create dams, dredging holes and long diversion channels for sluicing, resulting in heavy silting, reduction in water flow and the interruption of the entire ecosystem. FRVC volunteer stream patrols have documented the loss old growth trees along the stream banks, permanent campsites within 50 to 100 feet of the stream, large amounts of equipment and trash from abandoned campsites, and the use of motorized dredging equipment.
In October 2010, the California Fish and Game Commission designated the East Fork from Heaton Flat to the headwaters as a Wild and Heritage Trout Stream. This designation includes 33.6 miles of perennial stream habitat, and is one of only 12 watersheds in the state with this designation. Unfortunately, the CDFW management plan has not been published or implemented.
This once-prominent fishery, which has been abandoned by almost everyone, needs the support of the Southern California fishing community.