Category Archives: Endangered Species

CDFW Rescue Efforts Save Listed Salmon, Steelhead and Sturgeon

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) biologists have rescued hundreds of fish — including dozens of endangered and threatened salmon, steelhead and sturgeon — that were stranded in Sacramento Valley bypasses after recent heavy rains.

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The fish — including endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley steelhead and a threatened green sturgeon – were trapped in Fremont and Tisdale Weirs, flood control structures off the Sacramento River, when flood waters receded after mid-March rainstorms.

Rescue efforts began in late March, concluding in mid-April. Seventeen CDFW staff participated in the rescue efforts at the weirs, using beach seines, a sturgeon hoop net, dip nets and crowder racks to capture fish trapped within each weir apron.

The bulk of the rescued fish were salmon, with biologists capturing and tagging 41 adults and 160 juveniles. Based on length-at-date, the young salmon are believed to be a mixture of spring-run and fall-run fish. Staff also rescued one oversized adult green sturgeon, a massive female white sturgeon and hundreds of other fish, including Sacramento sucker, Sacramento pikeminnow, Sacramento splittail, striped bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish. All of the fish were moved back to the Sacramento River and released.

DNA tests are currently underway on a sampling of the fish rescued. Results will verify biologists’ field assessments that the adult salmon include winter-run and spring-run Chinook.

“We know these areas are prime stranding sites, so we keep them on our radar each year,” said Colin Purdy, CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist. “Rescuing state and federally listed species is a priority — particularly the adult fish, because they contribute to future generations. But all of the fish we pull out of the weir are transported back to the river for release.”

Biologists also used special tracking equipment in an effort to document the behavior and survival of the rescued fish. The green sturgeon, an adult male stranded in the Fremont Weir apron, was tagged with a surgically implanted acoustic tag on March 29 before being released into the Sacramento River. It was subsequently tracked on real-time acoustic receivers heading upstream toward its likely spawning grounds near Red Bluff.  The white sturgeon, a post-spawn female, was rescued from the Tisdale Weir on March 31. It was also given an acoustic tag and was subsequently tracked heading downstream.

Four adult Chinook salmon rescued on April 8 have since been detected moving upstream by real-time acoustic receivers.

All juvenile steelhead rescued were implanted with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags. Staff from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries oversaw their care and release as part of CDFW’s Central Valley Steelhead Monitoring Program.

CDFW has a team of scientists who monitor locations along the Sacramento River where fish tend to enter the Yolo and Sutter bypasses during high flows and become stranded once flows subside. Initial surveys of the fish stranded in water behind Fremont Weir documented four sturgeon. Only two of these were recovered during rescue efforts. CDFW is seeking information regarding possible illegal harvest or take of these two oversized sturgeon.

If you have information about this or any other fish and wildlife violation, please dial the toll-free CalTIP number, 1 888 334-CALTIP (888 334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anyone with a cell phone may send an anonymous tip to CDFW by texting “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411).

Media Contacts:
Colin Purdy, CDFW North Central Region, (916) 358-2943
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169

Salmon Seasons Set for Ocean and Inland Waters

The California Fish and Game Commission adopted recreational ocean and inland salmon season regulations as presented by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) on April 18. Ocean salmon season dates and management measures are set to coincide with the alternatives adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council for federal waters off the California coast. Inland river seasons adopted by the Commission are identical to the 2015 seasons with the exception of a reduction in the allowable harvest of Klamath Basin Chinook salmon.

“Reduced fishing opportunity in the ocean and inland areas are a reflection of lower abundance for some California salmon stocks as compared to recent years, likely as a result of extended drought and generally unfavorable ocean conditions for salmon survival,” said Jennifer Simon, an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Marine Region Salmon Team. “The 2016 seasons are intended to allow limited fishing opportunity on stocks that can support them while providing increased protection for the most vulnerable of stocks.”

An expected ocean abundance of roughly 300,000 Sacramento River fall Chinook (compared to 650,000 last year) will support recreational and commercial opportunities for ocean salmon fisheries off portions of California and Oregon. A projected return of 151,000 spawning adults allows for an inland river recreational harvest of 24,600 adult Chinook.

The Klamath River fall Chinook ocean abundance forecast of 142,200 adults is substantially lower than recent years and the primary reason for ocean fishery constraints. A projected return of 30,909 natural area spawning adults allows for an inland river recreational harvest quota of 1,110 adult Chinook salmon greater than 22 inches. In 2015 the harvest quota was 14,133.

The resulting bag and possession limits and seasons adopted by the Commission are as follows:

Central Valley Rivers:

Daily limit of two fish per day and a possession limit of four fish. On the American and Feather rivers the general season opener is July 16. On the Sacramento River below Deschutes Road Bridge to the Red Bluff Diversion Dam, the season opens Aug. 1 and closes Dec. 16. From below the Red Bluff Diversion Dam to the Carquinez Bridge, the season opens July 16 and closes Dec. 16. Please see the 2016 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations booklet for openings and closing of specific sections of each river, as well as gear restrictions.

Klamath River:

Daily limit of two fish per day of which only one may be greater than 22 inches, and the possession limit is six fish of which only three may be greater than 22 inches. The Klamath River fall Chinook season opens Aug. 15 and closes Dec. 31, while the Trinity River opens to salmon fishing on Sept. 1 and closes Dec. 31.

Ocean Salmon: 

Ocean salmon recreational fisheries include a daily limit of two adult Chinook salmon with four in possession on land with varying size restrictions depending on the area. Season dates include openings in May, June, July, August and the Labor Day weekend in the Crescent City/Eureka area. Fisheries further south opened on April 2 and will continue through Nov. 13 in the Fort Bragg area, through Oct. 31 in the San Francisco area, through July 15 from Pigeon Point to Point Sur, and through May 31 south of Point Sur. For a more in-depth look at ocean salmon seasons and restrictions, please see  www.wildlife.ca.gov/oceansalmon.

Long-running drought conditions, coupled with suboptimal ocean conditions, have raised serious concerns for Sacramento River winter Chinook salmon, which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and have experienced very low survival as juveniles in 2014 and 2015. Fisheries south of Point Arena, particularly recreational fisheries in the greater Monterey Bay region, continue to experience late-season reductions in 2016 to minimize interactions with winter Chinook.

Media Contact:
Jennifer Simon, CDFW Salmon Team, (707) 576-2878
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

Sacramento River Closure to Go Into Effect April 1

A temporary emergency regulation closing all fishing within 5.5 miles of spawning habitat on the Upper Sacramento River begins on April 1, 2016 and will remain in effect through July 31, 2016. Enhanced protective measures are also proposed in the ocean sport and commercial salmon fisheries regulations for the 2016 season.

The temporary emergency regulation closes all fishing on the 5.5 mile stretch of the Sacramento River from the Highway 44 Bridge where it crosses the Sacramento River upstream to Keswick Dam. The area is currently closed to salmon fishing but was open to trout fishing. The temporary closure will protect critical spawning habitat and eliminate any incidental stress or hooking mortality of winter-run Chinook salmon by anglers.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) scientists believe the additional protection provided in the emergency river closure and potential ocean fishing restrictions will help avoid a third year of substantial winter-run Chinook salmon loss.

Historically, winter-run Chinook spawned in the upper reaches of Sacramento River tributaries, including the McCloud, Pit, and Little Sacramento rivers. Shasta and Keswick dams now block access to the historic spawning areas. Winter-run Chinook, however, were able to take advantage of cool summer water releases downstream of Keswick Dam. In the 1940s and 1950s, the population recovered, but beginning in 1970, the population experienced a dramatic decline, to a low of approximately 200 spawners by the early 1990s. The run was classified as endangered under the state Endangered Species Act in 1989, and as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1994.

The Fish and Game Commission adopted CDFW’s proposal for the 2016 temporary closure at its regularly scheduled February meeting.

Media Contact:
Jason Roberts, CDFW Northern Region, (530) 225-2131
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

There’s a Place for Wildlife on Your Tax Return

The deadline to file income tax returns is approaching. If you’re still working on yours, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds you that you can help save endangered plants and animals on your state return. Near the end of form 540, look for the section called Voluntary Contributions. There, you can donate any dollar amount to the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410 or the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program on line 403.

The Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and “fully protected” by the State of California. It is illegal to harass, pursue, hunt, catch, capture or kill, or attempt any of those actions on such listed species.

Donations to the California Sea Otter Fund are split between CDFW and the State Coastal Conservancy. CDFW’s half supports scientific research on the causes of mortality in sea otters, including a large analysis of 15 years of sea otter mortality data with critical support from the California Sea Otter Fund. CDFW scientists and their partners have also initiated a multi-agency outreach program called “Sea Otter Savvy” to educate coastal boaters, kayakers and the public about the impact of repeated human disturbance on sea otter health and survival. More information can be found at www.facebook.com/seaottersavvy.

The annual sea otter survey conducted in 2015 indicated that the population in California may be slowly increasing, to just over 3,000 animals. That is a small fraction of their historic numbers and this population is still vulnerable to oil spills, environmental pollution, predation by white sharks and other threats. You can help spread the word by liking and sharing the Sea Otter Fund Facebook page.

Since 1983, California taxpayers have voluntarily supported the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program by donating more than $21 million. That money has provided critical support for many state-listed species, including Butte County meadowfoam (Limnanthes floccose ssp. californica), Pacific fisher (Pekania pennanti), Shoshone pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis Shoshone), Scripps’s murrelet (Synthliboramphus scrippsi), Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae), and many-flowered navarretia (Navarretia leucocephala ssp. plieantha).

“From Death Valley National Park to North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, many parts of California are exploding with amazing wildflower displays right now, but California’s native plants don’t usually get as much attention as animals,” said Jeb Bjerke, an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Native Plant Program. “Although many people think of California’s endangered species as animals, there are about twice as many listed plants. In addition, more than 1,000 plant species in California are rare but not listed. Our botanical diversity is astounding, and we are trying to protect that heritage from extinction.”

Voluntary contributions also help CDFW acquire federal matching funds, increasing the positive actions that can be done for rare, threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems that support them. Support from California taxpayers has enabled wildlife biologists to achieve important recovery milestones to conserve vulnerable species. Past contributors can take credit for helping the Peregrine falcon and California brown pelican enough to be removed from endangered species lists.

If someone else prepares your state tax return, please let him or her know you want to donate to the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program on line 403 or the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410. If you use Turbo Tax, when you’re near the end of your tax return it should ask if you want to make a voluntary contribution to a special fund. Click “Yes” and go to lines 403 and 410.

What you donate this year is tax deductible on next year’s return. More information on both the California Sea Otter Fund and the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation tax donation program is available on our Tax Donation webpage.

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Media Contacts:
Laird Henkel, Sea Otter Program, (831) 469-1726
Jeb Bjerke, Habitat Conservation Planning Branch (plants), (916) 651-6594
Esther Burkett, Nongame Wildlife Program, (916) 531-1594
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

Anglers Urged to Return Overdue 2015 Sturgeon Fishing Report Cards

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is reminding sturgeon anglers to return their 2015 Sturgeon Fishing Report Cards as required by law. Although the deadline to report their catch was Jan. 31, so far only about 13,000 (or 27 percent) of the 48,338 report cards sold have been returned. The sport fishing regulations require that all sturgeon anglers return their report cards, even those who did not encounter sturgeon and who did not fish for white sturgeon.

Without the data gleaned from the roughly 35,000 late report cards, CDFW’s scientific understanding of the white sturgeon and green sturgeon populations is incomplete. This makes it harder for scientists to assess the white sturgeon population and to document accidental catch of the threatened green sturgeon.  Addressing the uncertainty could mean new harvest restrictions and certainly means more expense.

“Anglers who return their report cards are providing very good data that is otherwise unavailable.  They are also helping to protect the white sturgeon fishery and rebuild both sturgeon populations,” said Marty Gingras, CDFW Sturgeon Program Manager. “Anglers who do not return report cards — especially the many thousands of avid sturgeon anglers — are complicating those efforts. We’re asking anglers to send the information to us now, even though the deadline has passed.”

Anglers can return the overdue report cards by mail to the address printed on the card or — until April 1 — use the CDFW website at www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing#758846-harvest-reporting.

In continuing efforts to both encourage anglers to return their 2015 Sturgeon Fishing Report Cards as required by law and to understand more about the missing data, CDFW used the Automated License Data System and a scientific phone survey to contact more than 6,000 avid sturgeon anglers during the last few months.  The phone survey showed that many avid sturgeon anglers are choosing not to (rather than forgetting to) return their report cards and that substantial catch data is being withheld. Both reasons were previously considered plausible but had never before been quantified.

White sturgeon and green sturgeon are anadromous, meaning they move from the salt and brackish water to spawn in freshwater. They are both native California species and can live to be more than 100 years old.  California’s sturgeon populations were substantially reduced by commercial fishing in the 19th century and the recreational and commercial sturgeon fisheries were (with minor exceptions) closed from 1901 through 1953. Only recreational fishing for sturgeon has been allowed since 1954, and that fishery has become increasingly restricted over time in an effort to rebuild the populations and protect the fishery.  Green sturgeon is a threatened species and may not be fished for or harvested.

Media Contacts:
Marty Gingras, CDFW Sturgeon Program Manager, (209) 234-3486
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944