San Jose creeks see explosion in spawning salmon population

This year is shaping up to be significant for the salmon population, as large numbers of fish migrate through Bay Area creeks for spawning.

The trend is evident in San Jose, where years of habitat improvement are yielding positive results.

"I think it's been the best kept secret," said Steve Holmes, executive director of the South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition.

Researchers studying fish bones found they are actually native to the Guadalupe River Watershed.

"It's the largest metropolitan service area with salmon, native salmon running up through it," said Dr. Rick Lanman, president of the Institute for Historical Ecology.


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But for years their numbers dwindled, as trash in the creeks piled up.

The South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition made it their mission to improve the habitat.

"Along this waterway we actually have pulled mattresses out, you name it we've pulled it out, parts of cars. It's just crazy," said Holmes.

They removed 1.3 million pounds of trash over 10 years. And now all that work seems to be paying off.

"The goal was to get it to where you'd have clean gravel and then these fish would be able to return and successfully spawn. And I think that's what we've accomplished," said Holmes.

Researchers are now examining the fish to track their origins and how many are native versus hatchery strays.

Regardless, the population has exploded this year. Researchers have spotted nearly 200 salmon in the Guadalupe and Los Gatos creeks so far, and the spawning season has only just begun. The fish are also bigger, some weighing 30 pounds.

"This year all the fish are just engorged. They're humongous. It's a nice trend and I hope it will continue as we move forward," Holmes said.

The salmon will only be in the Guadalupe River Watershed for a short time. The spawning season starts around thanksgiving and ends in January.