MENDOCINO Co., 4/17/17 — A press release from Eel River Recovery Project:
Secret Lives of Eel River Fishes Revealed – Earth Day at Willits Library
The Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP) will be making a presentation at the Willits Branch of the Mendocino County Library on Earth Day, April 22, from noon to 3 PM on the Secret Lives of Eel River Fishes. The afternoon will include a presentation and videos on Eel River fish, the Native American perspective on fish, and an opportunity for the public to share their knowledge and observations.
Residents of Willits nearby areas within the Eel River watershed who have photos to share showing fish or historic stream conditions should come to the library at 11:30 AM to scan their photos. Anyone unable to attend the April 22 event can contact ERRP and arrange to meet at their new office at the Willits Hub.
At noon, ERRP Managing Director and fish biologist Pat Higgins will present slides and short videos about Eel River fish. The ERRP has been studying fall Chinook salmon trends for several years. The 2016-2017 run was estimated to be 15,000-30,000 fish, which is equivalent to population levels in the 1950s. Water temperature and flow studies conducted by citizen monitors all over the Eel River basin allow ERRP to identify perennial cold water streams essential for salmon and steelhead survival. These “refugia” are essential to rebuilding salmon populations because they provide a source of colonists for restored streams. Coho salmon are not rebounding like Chinook salmon are, and Pat will share ideas on how to maintain and restore coho salmon habitat. The upper South Fork Eel has one of the most important remaining coho salmon populations in the region, but Outlet Creek coho are at very low levels.
Most focus on the Eel River has been on its salmon runs, but the river is also home to other fish that are anadromous. These fish are born in freshwater, spend their adult lives in the ocean and then return to the river to spawn. The largest is the green sturgeon that can grow up to seven feet and live as long as 70 years. They run upstream in spring to spawn in main Eel River channels from Dos Rios downstream. Some adults do not get back downstream in time and can be seen holding in the deepest pools all summer long.
The Pacific lamprey is a cartilaginous, jawless fish, commonly called an eel, for which the Eel River was named. ERRP fish observers have seen Sturgeon regularly since 2012, and the lamprey are experiencing a major resurgence with thousands distributed throughout the watershed.
Resident native fishes, such as the Sacramento sucker and sculpin, are rare in some reaches of the Eel River because of heavy predation by the non-native Sacramento pikeminnow. ERRP conducts pikeminnow surveys and plans to assist with managing the population so native fishes can fully recover.
Round Valley Tribal elder Ernie Merrifield will talk about the relationship of the Eel River native peoples to the fish and the environment before their cultural traditions were disrupted. Northern California Indians shared a Harmony-based culture and believed that everything was imbued with a spirit and that all creatures had a right to exist. Fish harvest was embedded in their culture and religion, and the timing and level of harvest was typically controlled by the tribe’s shaman. Ernie will talk about the rhythm of Nature and the importance of coming into Harmony with Nature.
Time will be allotted for folks to share their experiences of fishing the Eel River, their observations of fish runs, habitat conditions and trends, both recent and historic.
The Earth Day event is co-sponsored by ERRP and the Mendocino County Library. There is no charge for admission. For more information, please see the ERRP Facebook page, their website at www.eelriverrecovery.org or call 707 223-7200. The ERRP Board of Directors will meet on Sunday, April 23, from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM at the Willits Hub at 630 S Main Street, and the public is welcome.