El Niño rains could wash away future generations of endangered salmon

- Recent rains and the ones El Niño may deliver next year are helping spawning fish find their way upstream to their spawning grounds. But, El Niño could actually harm the next generation of baby fish that could be simply washed away.

The Austins, who just moved to the Bay Area, came to Lagunitas Creek in Samuel P. Taylor State Park to see creatures they've never seen before.

"Just the clear water and the way the salmon are swimming in the rocks.  It's beautiful," says Richard Austin.  The salmon have returned from the ocean to spawn and die, completing a three-year circle of life.

"I just think that some of them are very colorful and some are dark.  I guess I really like them.  They're cool," said Richard Austin's young daughter Erin.

But, the coolness may not last much longer. "What we're witnessing here, unfortunately, is the demise of the Coho Salmon in Central California.

90 percent of the streams where Coho salmon existed have existed in California, they've gone extinct," said Todd Steiner, founder of the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network.

Though Lagunitas Creek contains one of the biggest Coho salmon runs, those runs are less than 10 percent of what they should be to indicate a healthy, sustainable population.

Ironically, after surviving the drought, the torrential downpours that El Niño may soon deliver, may actually hurt baby Coho soon to come.

"These fish have been hit with drought, so they have fewer habitats because there's less water in the creek to move around and find food and now, with El Niño, potentially giving us too much rain all at once. The fish have nowhere to hide during those big storms," said Steiner.

The key to the Coho's long-term survival is a comprehensive restoration of habitat on each and every remaining salmon bearing stream and bank system to return them to original condition.

"So if we could stop making new mistakes and doing more development along the streams and repair the mistakes of the past, then we will make progress," Steiner says.

"It would just be a loss for everybody that lives in the local area and for the tourism in the local community," concluded Richard Austin who views the Coho in wonderment.
 

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