200 adult coho salmon released to boost endangered species' population

By Bay City News Service

Nearly 200 adult coho salmon raised in a hatchery were released today in Redwood Creek at Marin County's Muir Beach in an effort to boost the population of the endangered fish, wildlife officials said.

Biologists hope the released fish will migrate upstream and spawn in the creek, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Redwood Creek begins at the top of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County and flows down to the Pacific Ocean at Muir Beach.

Coho salmon have been declining in Redwood Creek for a long time; before 2014, fewer than 10 adult salmon were estimated to return to the creek annually to spawn. Both California and the federal government list the coho salmon as an endangered species.

The salmon released today were collected from Redwood Creek at the age of 6 to 8 months in the summer of 2015 and raised to adulthood at the Warm Springs Fish Hatchery in Geyserville, according to the department.

Back in 2015, at the height of the drought, Redwood Creek Coho Salmon Rescue and Captive Rearing Project took a group of three-inch juvenile cohos, that would have  almost certainly died, and raised them an Army Corps or Engineers Hatchery for three years.

Today, they came back to their birthplace. "This is kind of the last, you know, one of our last hopes that these fish will be able to spawn and repopulate this stream," said Mike Reichmuth, a Nationall Park Service biologist.    

The project was undertaken by the department and other federal and state agencies in hopes of preventing the extinction of the coho salmon.

"Our part, as well as other land managers, are doing a lot of actions to improve habitat conditions, which is another piece of the puzzle to try to maintain sustainable populations into the future," said Darren Fong, a golden Gate National Recreation Area aquatic ecologist.

"It's really important that we get fish in there and hopefully they can start using that habitat that we've created for them," said Reichmuth. 

"On a much bigger level, what we're doing is we're restoring hope. We're restoring hope for the neighbors, we're restoring hope for those of us who work in the agencies. We're restoring hope, we're  rippling out hope on a larger level," said Sue Gardner of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

"It is magic. It's kind of hard to describe to be honest with you, and that's why you see so many people here today," said Gardner.

"Once they actually see the fish live, and seeing this happen, they get it. This is important. We need to save this," said Reichmuth.

The long decline of coho salmon in Redwood Creek has been accelerated by recent periods of poor ocean survival combined with the long California drought, the department said.

KTVU reporter Tom Vacar contributed to this report