Endangered So. Cal. Steelhead dies before it can reproduce

 

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By Rosi Dagit

Guest Contributor

She was lying on her back on the bottom of a pool, pushed by the flow against a rock. Bruised, scales falling off, scrapes all over her body, she was barely breathing. Gently holding her face into the flow, she gasped for air and hung limply in my hands. I could feel her muscles twitch and contract, but she could not swim at all. When I let her go, she sank to the bottom on her back and rolled with the flow on her side, up against my feet, unable to orient herself.

At 23 inches, she was a full-grown anadromous steelhead that had fought her way upstream against the current in search of a place to spawn. The creek was wondrous after all the winter storms, with steady flows cascading over rocks, providing a background music calling her upstream to find a good place to lay her eggs.

For several minutes we stood and discussed what to do. She was clearly not going to recover and survive, but she was not quite dead yet. It was just heartbreaking to think of losing this fish, one of only four anadromous adults known to have returned to the creeks so far this year in all of Southern California.

What went wrong? How did she get so banged up? Was the flow too strong? Was she too old and tired, having waited too many years for the rains to come?

She died in my hands. I brought her battered body back to teach us and help us learn to tell her story. Her scales will tell us her age. Her DNA will give us insight into her ancestry. She was not one of our tagged fish, but from somewhere else. Only 18 eggs, an empty stomach. The promise of the future for southern steelhead took a big loss today.

Rosi Dagit is a Senior Conservation Biologist for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Editor’s Note: Dagit and the RCDSMM  have permits to monitor and handle these endangered fish. Only permitted biologists are allowed to handle them. There is a substantial fine per fish (around $25,000) for harassment or taking one from the water, if not permitted.

 

 

 

Quick Mends: San Gabriel River faces increased human pressures

Could this sign soon include “national recreation area”? (Courtesy Forest Camping)

The only time I’ve been up to the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, I got the last parking spot, passed by a pretty rough crew, and — most importantly — got skunked. The last part is why I haven’t been back.

In today’s Los Angeles Times, Louis Sahagun pens a remarkably scary portrait of a river that’s facing real problems, both from budget cuts that make law enforcement difficult and from the interests of competing groups.

What I found telling is that of the players Sahagun interviewed, not one was a fly fisherman. Believe me, we’re out there in the Sab Gabes, but I think word is out that the East Fork needs some serious work before it once again becomes a local fishing destination.

See you on the river, Jim Burns