Coho Salmon Identification is Critical in California’s Ocean Fisheries

Media Contacts:
David Moore, DFG Region 3, (707) 766-8380
Andrew Hughan, DFG Communications, (916) 322-8944

The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) reminds sport anglers to be vigilant about properly identifying their salmon before keeping them. The ocean salmon fishing season in California is well under way and proper identification is critical for the survival of a protected species of salmon.

Coho salmon

Coho salmon

Chinook (or king) salmon is the primary species targeted in California’s ocean waters (although a few pink salmon are caught occasionally). However, the retention of coho (or silver) salmon is prohibited in all California ocean fisheries, specifically to protect central coast and southern Oregon-northern California coast coho stocks. Both stocks are severely declining and listed under both the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.

Coho salmon have existed in California coastal waters for thousands of years. Today, however, their populations have declined to just a fraction of their historical levels, endangered by a wide range of factors. Coho salmon populations along the coast from the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz County north to the Smith River in Del Norte County have reached a critical state of decline. Spawner escapement numbers are below those required for sustainable populations and constitute a crisis for coho salmon survival on the California coast.

In most years, sport anglers begin catching coho salmon in the ocean fishery around mid-May. Coho catches generally peak during June and then gradually decline throughout the remainder of summer. Although some of these fish may have originated from hatcheries in Oregon and Washington, many are native California coho and any retention in California ocean fisheries has been prohibited since 1995. California ocean fisheries are managed to provide for the maximum access to abundant Chinook stocks while still protecting depressed California coho populations.

Sport fishing enthusiasts can significantly help California coho stocks by taking the time to correctly identify each salmon caught before removing it from the water (netting or dropping a coho salmon onto the deck of a boat can cause both scale loss and trauma that will likely reduce its chance of survival when released). Coho salmon should be identified through examination of mouth and gums. The base of the bottom teeth on a Chinook salmon are all black whereas coho salmon have a narrow light gray band. A photo guide is viewable online at http://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=36125&inline=true. Although not as often caught in ocean waters, steelhead cannot be targeted or taken during the ocean salmon season. Steelhead show no black color on lower jaw and tongue.

To help avoid coming in contact with coho salmon, anglers should rig their lines to fish deeper as coho are more often found in the top 30 feet of water. Anglers should plan to fish nearer to shore for Chinook salmon as coho salmon are typically found farther offshore. Using larger lures that select for the larger Chinook salmon will also reduce coho salmon catch. The daily bag limit remains two salmon of any species except coho salmon. For complete ocean salmon regulations, please visit the Ocean Salmon webpage at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/oceansalmon.asp or call the Ocean Salmon Regulations Hotline at (707) 576-3429.

Sport anglers are also reminded that coho salmon may also be found in coastal rivers and streams. Retention of coho salmon in any California inland salmon fishery has been prohibited since 1998. Protecting coho salmon in the ocean, as well as in streams and rivers, is an essential step in recovering this important salmon species.

DFG Releases Adult Coho Salmon into Sonoma County Creek

Media Contacts:
Manfred Kittel, DFG Coho Salmon Recovery Coordinator, (707) 944-5522
Andrew Hughan, DFG Communications, (916) 322-8944

The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) recently released adult coho salmon in Salmon Creek, Sonoma County to reestablish a coho salmon population.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is the fourth consecutive year adult salmon were released. This year 200 adults were released on two separate occasions in late December 2011 and early January 2012. The released coho included 120 males and 80 females, predominantly hybrids derived from mating between coho salmon of Russian River and Olema Creek origin, with a small number of pure Russian River coho and Olema Creek coho.

“We are at a critical moment in the survival of the coho salmon on the California coast,” said Manfred Kittel, DFG Coho Salmon Recovery Coordinator. “DFG and our federal and environmental partners must take aggressive actions to save the species from becoming extinct in central California.”

As in previous years, this year’s fish were released near the mouth of Salmon Creek with the hope that the fish will migrate upstream to find suitable spawning habitat in one of Salmon Creek’s tributaries. Despite the general lack of rain this season, biologists are optimistic that the recently released coho should be able to find spawning habitat in some upstream portions of Salmon Creek and its tributaries.

The release of adult coho in Salmon Creek is a joint effort between DFG, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other entities, including private landowners. The Salmon Creek access site is located a few miles north of Bodega Bay on the Chanslor Ranch owned by George Gross.

“The entire coho recovery team appreciates Mr. Gross allowing us to access the creek on his property for the past four years,” said Kittel. “There are few optimal places where adult coho can be released and we appreciate the help we get from Chanslor Ranch.”

In 2008, 2009 and 2010 field biologists collected tissue samples and confirmed that the released coho spawned successfully in several tributaries and in all possible mating combinations.

Fish surveys planned for the coming summer in the Salmon Creek watershed will tell DFG biologists whether the latest released group of adult coho salmon has reproduced successfully and whether any of the progeny from the first release in winter 2008 have returned this season from the ocean to spawn in the watershed where their life’s journey began three years ago.

Releasing hatchery-reared adult coho salmon is a relatively new technique that has the advantages of not requiring spawning in a hatchery, allowing the released fish to establish natural mating patterns and subjecting their offspring to natural selective pressures from birth on.

###

DFG to Hold Public Meeting on Coho Salmon

Media Contacts:
Neil Manji, DFG Northern Regional Manager, (530) 225-2363
Jordan Traverso, DFG Communications, (916) 654-9937

One juvenile coho salmon swims above rocks in Northern California stream.

Juvenile coho salmon

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) will be in Fort Jones on August 16 to discuss coho salmon in the Shasta and Scott valleys. A community meeting will be held that day from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Fort Jones Community Center on 11960 East Street. DFG will provide an update on the status of coho salmon and request that certain landowners temporarily reduce diversion amounts to maintain water for rearing coho at strategic locations.

Although this past spring and early summer were unusually wet, stream conditions in key locations of the Shasta and Scott river watersheds important to rearing coho salmon are deteriorating.

Coho salmon in the Shasta and Scott River watersheds are currently listed as a “Threatened” species under the Federal and State Endangered Species Acts. Biologists have been monitoring coho salmon populations in the Shasta and Scott rivers since 2001 and results indicate precipitous declines in their numbers.

Coho salmon must stay in fresh water for approximately 18 months before entering the ocean to grow and mature. Young coho salmon need cold well-oxygenated water to survive as well as the ability to move from one location to another as conditions change.

In 2011, more than 800 coho salmon spawned in the Scott River and its tributaries. This represents the largest adult returns in some time, as well as strong juvenile production. Protecting these fish is an essential step in recovering the species.

For the past several weeks, DFG has been performing annual fish rescue activities by removing coho and other fish species from drying sections of streambed and relocating them. So far this season, 2,885 coho salmon have been captured and relocated from Kidder and Patterson creeks. DFG staff believes fish rescue will be required in other tributaries of the Scott and Shasta rivers unless additional water for these fish is made available.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,533 other followers