by Eric Ettlinger, Aquatic Ecologist
What started off as an unusually large and early coho run in Lagunitas Creek appears to be coming to a disappointing end. We may see a few fish spawning in the next couple of weeks, but at this point a late surge is unlikely. To date we’ve counted 103 coho redds, which is similar to what we saw three years ago but barely half of average. What’s most disappointing is that in 2013 we observed a robust emigration of coho smolts from the creek. We expected those relatively large fish to pack on some more weight in the restored Giacomini Wetlands and then survive well in the open ocean. It now appears that less than three percent of those fish have returned.
It’s possible that we missed some spawning while 15 inches of rain fell and high stream flows kept us out of Lagunitas Creek in mid-December. If that’s true, we should have found redds, live fish, or even carcasses when we returned to the creek, but we saw few of each. We also surveyed the tributary streams during that period and saw relatively few salmon for that time of year. There’s little option but to conclude that this year’s cohort survived poorly in the ocean.
On January 5 we saw our first steelhead spawner of the season and once the rain returns we should see steelhead numbers ramp up. We’re still seeing a couple of Chinook salmon in the creek, and yesterday had the distinct pleasure of seeing a small mixed school of coho, Chinook, and steelhead holding in a deep pool. It wasn’t much, but we’ll take what we can get.