Coho salmon make their way back into the Lagunitas Watershed to spawn following December rains to find the most ideal spawning grounds in the creek beds, to lay their nests and support the future generations of their species. However, with some rain, came even more rain and the state of California has been hit with enough rain to now categorize almost half the state clear from drought!
Water is what’s been needed for many years, and this coho spawning season was cut short in early January. The consecutive atmospheric river events that drowned the Watershed also changed creek conditions and potential nesting survival.
Out of the three coho spawner classes analyzed, this 2022-23 class is considered one of the weaker cohorts based on historic trends and monitoring data. The parent generation of this year’s class in 2019-2020, brought forth the lowest numbers recorded since 2009. The redd count was 25% of average and 64% lower than the count three years ago in 2006 (Ettlinger, Adult Salmonid Monitoring, 2020).
Fast forward to this year, the greater Lagunitas Watershed was on track for a return below average, but not significantly worse than the 2019-2020 record according to Marin Water’s counts. As counts came in from the Point Reyes National Park Service monitoring Olema and Redwood creeks, as few as 3 coho redds were observed.
Additionally, despite all the rain that would have allowed easy, navigable access into the upper watershed, SPAWN recorded 14 coho, 4 unknown, and 5 steelhead nests so far in the tributaries of San Geronimo creek. Steelhead spawning can run through April if conditions allow, which steady rain now through March has allowed the steelhead season to seemingly go unimpaired. High flows and turbid water have made surveying efforts difficult this season but from what has been observed, even the steelhead run seems unexpectedly small.
Knowing how many nests have survived these storm events is uncertain. Unfortunately, there is a high chance these rains have done more harm than good for what was already a small coho season and overall salmon return within the Lagunitas Watershed. We will get a better idea of survival once young alevin or juveniles emerge from the gravel nests this spring and summer.
The suggested call to end the 2023 fishing season for ocean chinook salmon by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife also highlights the saddened truth of the state of our overall salmon fisheries population this year. With low numbers in our local watershed and low numbers in the ocean, it’s incredibly important that what can be done to preserve and protect these salmonid species is taken seriously.