Science Spotlight

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  • June 18, 2019

Three people in waders with long black rubber gloves. Man in middle wearing large gray backpack with tubing coming off back. All three are bent over holding long black rods in small streambed with fallen trees surrounding. Background is filled with trees and vegetation.
CDFW scientists rescuing juvenile Coho Salmon from isolated and drying pool habitats in Olds Creek, a tributary to the Noyo River in Mendocino County.

Three men in and alongside streambed.One man is in the water wearing a gray machine backpack while holding a long yellow rod with a round metal hoop at the end. Another man in the water is bent over holding a small net about the water. A third man crouches alongside the water on top of rocks peering into white bucket. Another white bucket is nearby.
CDFW crew relocating steelhead and Coho Salmon to a lower pool on East Weaver Creek in Trinity County in June of 2015.

Woman wearing purple plaid shirt and black pants holding large yellow and white rod against large boulder. Background is filled with large boulders and vegetation.
In July 2016, this usually perennial pool on Matilija Creek in the Ventura River watershed went dry, killing several juvenile steelhead.

One silver lining to emerge from the severe drought that impacted California earlier this decade was that it whetted an appetite to study the event and compile data designed to help fish and aquatic species better weather future droughts.

The state experienced one of the warmest, driest periods in recorded history during this five-year drought (2012 to 2016).

In Jan. 2014, then-Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought a state of emergency. His proclamation directed all state agencies to act to prepare for and mitigate drought-related effects on water supply and aquatic species. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) responded by enacting “drought stressor monitoring” on a statewide level, and recently released a summary report on that effort entitled link opens in new windowStatewide Drought Response: Stressor Monitoring (PDF).

In late 2016 to early 2017, drought conditions improved considerably in most of the state when winter storms delivered higher than average levels of rainfall. The report describes the results from a collaborative statewide monitoring effort carried out during the period of 2014 to 2017 by scientists from CDFW and other agencies.

The primary purpose was to collect information on the status of populations of fish and other aquatic species, their habitats, and the water quality in the streams in which they reside. The intent was to provide both the scientific community and the public with a better understanding of potential drought-related threats to vulnerable species, and measures taken by CDFW and other agencies to alleviate these threats. This information was also necessary to help CDFW make better-informed management decisions.

The knowledge and data gained in this effort will be used to guide both CDFW and other resource managers during future droughts.

“This was a monumental statewide monitoring effort in response to drought impacts,” said CDFW Environmental Program Manager Jonathan Nelson. “The Drought Stressor Monitoring” developed important baseline documentation of the environmental changes associated with the severe drought conditions, and how the changes affected aquatic habitats and fish populations throughout the state. It was vital to collect this baseline, so we would better understand how to respond both in the present and in the future by creating a boiler plate. This document summarizes the monitoring framework implemented from 2014 to early 2017, how these data informed management actions, and how these efforts will hopefully minimize the impacts on fish and aquatic species during future droughts.”

Overall, CDFW monitored habitat conditions for 17 aquatic species in 141 watersheds, spanning 28 counties. Key findings from the monitor efforts identified several patterns of drought-related ecosystem change throughout the state including 1) increased loss of stream connectivity; 2) degraded water quality, including reduced levels of oxygen and elevated water temperatures; 3) high elevation streams impacted by the formation of winter anchor ice; and 4) elevated instances of fish being stranded by low streamflow and adversely affected by poor water quality.

Drought stressor monitoring was integral to management actions and was particularly critical to the process of aquatic species rescue. Fish rescues were only undertaken after Drought Stressor Monitoring information showed that populations were at high risk of becoming locally extinct in the immediate future. CDFW scientists developed special criteria and guidelines to assess the threat of drought and when to initiate rescue operations. When suitable habitat was available, fish were relocated to nearby habitat within the same stream or watershed to ensure the genetic health of the population and to maintain local adaptations. In cases where habitat was not available, fish were relocated to nearby hatcheries for temporary holding.

Approximately $3 million was dedicated to this effort from then-Governor Brown and more than approximately 100 CDFW staff members contributed to the monitoring and report-summary efforts. CDFW’s Fisheries Branch spearheaded the compiling of the data and finalized the report in collaboration with staff in the department’s various regions.

link opens in new windowView the final report (PDF).

CDFW Photos.

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Media Contact:
Kirsten Macintyre, OCEO Communications, (916) 322-8988
 

Categories: Wildlife Research
  • June 11, 2019

Lake with vegetation in foreground. Snowy mountains and green trees in background.
A long, wet winter has been good for Junction Reservoir and CDFW’s Kamloops rainbow trout that live there.

Dock on lake with small fishing boats. Mountainside with trees in background.
The June Lake Marina graciously offered up its net pens to CDFW’s Kamloops rainbow trout program when the drought forced CDFW to rescue its brood stock from a shrinking Junction Reservoir.

Two men in CDFW uniforms standing in concrete and metal structure in stream. One man is holding a large white net. Trees and patchy snow covered ground in background.
CDFW hatchery staffers Jimmy Sparks, left, and Drew Klingberg prepare to sex and sort Kamloops brood stock for later spawning, separating males from females as well as those females ready to spawn immediately versus those that need more time to ripen. The fish are returned to Junction Reservoir after spawning.

Person wearing blue gloves holding net with fish over metal basin with water.
The offspring from these Kamloops will be raised at CDFW’s Fish Springs Trout Hatchery and stocked by airplane as fingerlings into backcountry waters across the state approved for trout stocking.

Blue-gloved hands holding small fish over metal basin filled with water and fish.
Resplendent in their spring spawning colors, Kamloops rainbow are raised and bred for their hard-fighting ability and wild nature that allows them to thrive in California’s remote backcountry waters and provide a thrill for anglers who catch them.

Junction Reservoir in Mono County is CDFW’s brood lake for the Kamloops rainbow trout, a hard-fighting strain originally from the Kamloops region of British Columbia.

The 20-acre lake sits on a private cattle ranch off-limits to fishing. It provides a secluded setting for the brood stock, whose progeny are used almost exclusively for the aerial stocking of backcountry waters throughout the state.

“We try to keep them raised in a more wild condition so they do better in the wild,” said Hot Creek Trout Hatchery Manager Mike Escallier. “They are a really fun fish to catch. They jump a lot. They will jump 3 feet out of the water when you hook one.”

And Junction Reservoir has never looked better. This spring, the lake was filled to the brim after a long, cold, wet winter. Near the mouth of the lake’s one small inlet, Kamloops were staging for a spawning run, their feisty nature on full display in the clear waters, breaking the surface occasionally and fighting each other over territory.

Kamloops further up the inlet were blocked from moving upstream by a concrete and metal trap. That’s where CDFW’s hatchery staff collect and sort the fish each spring, spawning them manually to produce the offspring that will be deposited as fingerlings this summer by airplane into backcountry waters approved for stocking.

The entire scene is a welcome sight after California’s drought nearly collapsed CDFW’s backcountry fish-stocking program. During the darkest days of the drought, the small inlet feeding into Junction Reservoir dried up. Combined with the years-long shortage of rain and snow, Junction Reservoir withered to about half its size. In 2013, CDFW conducted an emergency fish rescue to save about 2,000 of the brood fish and its backcountry trout stocking program altogether.

The rescued fish were relocated to CDFW trout hatcheries and other nearby waters for safe-keeping. The owners of the June Lake Marina provided a major assist, offering up some of their net pens on June Lake to CDFW and its Kamloops at no charge. The June Lake net pens continue to hold some Kamloops, which CDFW spawns each spring until the program transitions back fully to Junction Reservoir and CDFW’s Fish Springs Trout Hatchery south of Big Pine where the baby Kamloops are raised.

CDFW returned brood fish to Junction Reservoir in the spring of 2017 following a wet winter and heavy snowpack. CDFW is rebuilding production toward its annual goal of collecting and fertilizing 1.4 million eggs. Some of the offspring are put back into Junction Reservoir to add genetic diversity and different age classes to the rebuilding brood population as no natural spawning occurs in the lake.

One benchmark hatchery managers and biologists are striving toward is the return of Kamloops to Crowley Lake, where more anglers will have a chance to enjoy them.

Before the drought wreaked havoc on CDFW’s Kamloops program, a portion of the Kamloops produced each year were allocated to Crowley Lake. While the backcountry trout are sterile – or “triploid” – the fish stocked into Crowley are “diploids” capable of spawning naturally.

“They spawn at different times than other strains of rainbow trout,” explained Escallier. “They give anglers fishing the creeks opportunity. They tend to be running up the creeks from Crowley right around the trout opener.”

CDFW Photos. Top Photo: The inlet to Junction Reservoir is blocked by a fish trap where CDFW hatchery employees catch fish in the spring for spawning.

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Media Contact:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908

Categories: General