Chief, Planning Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District
ATTN: Mr. Jesse Ray (CESPL-PDR-L)
915 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 930
Los Angeles, California 90017
By Rosi Dagit
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.
This story from the Ventura County Star has gone viral in the last several days, according to Pasadena Casting Club’s John Tobin. As the club’s conservation editor and an enthusiastic environmentalist, he was excited by the sighting of this endangered species, adding, “this could be the L.A. River!”
I share his sentiment and hope that the push to develop the river doesn’t leave out the most important part — a return of Southern California Coast Steelhead.
Of course, after years of drought, spotting a southern steelhead in a creek at Leo Carrillo State Park is a reason for everyone to cheer. Gone are the days of steelhead runs, when an entire industry sprang up to cater to fishermen who traveled to witness and catch these magnificent fish as they made their way from the ocean to their spawning grounds in our local mountains.
“It was so exciting to find an actual steelhead, as they are rare as hens teeth this year,” said Rosi Dagit, team leader and senior conservation biologist for Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, by email. “Only four anadromous adults have been documented thus far, and one died in my hands in Malibu on Wednesday. A lot of future hopes are with this lovely fish and we wish her many babies to help recover the population!”
See you on the river, Jim Burns
Check out this afternoon of education and fellowship as leading steelhead scientists provide updates and answer questions about steelhead populations, recovery activities, and angling considerations in southern California.
This interactive workshop will:
· inform anglers about the latest scientific data and understanding of steelhead biology and populations
· discuss the impacts of drought and human water use on steelhead
· review the history of southern steelhead restoration efforts as well as current recovery plans and actions
· clarify fisheries management obligations, policies, and regulations
· discuss implications of southern steelhead recovery efforts on angling opportunities
· provide extensive question-and-answer opportunities
· offer a complimentary snack and beverage social hour
The panel of steelhead experts represents some of the world’s foremost authorities on steelhead biology and management – and some are avid steelhead anglers, too. They will help workshop participants to better understand how steelhead science is helping to protect wild populations, identify priority restoration objectives, and engage the angling community to help enhance and sustain steelhead fisheries.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 26
Time: noon – 4 p.m.
Location: Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA (100 Aquarium Way Long Beach, CA 90802)
Cost: FREE **Free admission is on the honor system. If you are only attending the event, please tell the entry staff that you are here for the steelhead science workshop. If you plan to come early or stay after the event to enjoy the Aquarium, please purchase an admission ticket.
RSVP: Please register HERE
“Against the Current, The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead” could not, in truth, be a more unlikely tale. Author John G. Tomlinson Jr. takes the reader on an environmental roller coaster ride that matches our region’s boom-or-bust water supply, and throws in plenty of human Greek drama.
What just over a 100 years ago was a region so pristine that Easterners came here to mend their health, through hunting, fishing and soaking up the sunshine, quickly turned into what we have today. As someone who has lived here for over 30 years with no plans of leaving, I’m not complaining, but when you read this book and realize what it once was — especially if you enjoy fly fishing the San Gabes — well, get our your handkerchief.
One fact to prime the tears: In the early 1900s, the then-equivalent of the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife set the limit of fish taken at … 100. If you’ve ever put boots to dirt and fly to water in our mountains, this should give you a chill. Guests at the local fishing camps regularly hauled in lots of rainbows, and, yes, steelhead. And they hauled, and they hauled and they hauled. Think buffalo in the plains states.
How we got from those abundant fishy beginnings to where we are today is a story of good intentions gone to greed, it’s about that simple.
As for the steelhead once again taking center stage as we enter the Great Los Angeles River Rebuilding, well, this magnificent creature needs our help to get off the endangered species list.
When Congress approves the billion bucks for a river makeover early next year, I hope every politician, every engineer and every investor gets a copy of this book. They should look up the section on one Henry O’Melveny, lawyer, fishing advocate, Creel Club founder, ice plant owner and, sadly, leader of the pack that done the natural inhabitants of our erratic rivers and streams in. Indeed, he is a figure as defining of Greek tragedy as Oedipus or Agamemnon.
Fast forward to today, and a mayor who is bringing in major bucks from Washington for the river as well as public transportation. I hope that Eric Garcetti reads this slim volume. It is the most compelling work to date on why the natural habitat can’t take a backseat to our own urban comfort zone. That story already happened.
See you on the river, Jim Burns