Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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ARCATA FWO: Good Fishing and Strong Partnerships are a Highlight of 2012 Klamath River Salmon Run
California-Nevada Offices , October 10, 2012
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Yurok fishermen ply the waters of the Klamath estuary for fall Chinook salmon near Requa, Calif.
Yurok fishermen ply the waters of the Klamath estuary for fall Chinook salmon near Requa, Calif. - Photo Credit: USFWS Matt Baun

By Matt Baun, Public Affairs

Ten years ago the Klamath River experienced one of the largest adult salmon die-offs in the nation’s history. The year in question was 2002 and the event had a tremendous impact on a number of communities in the Klamath Basin, especially those who rely on the Klamath for their livelihoods.

The run of Chinook salmon this year in the Klamath is believed to be up to three to four times greater than what occurred in 2002. The sheer number of fish and the always-challenging water management issues in the Klamath Basin brought natural resources managers together to figure out strategies to avert another disastrous salmon die-off event.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Bureau of Reclamation, California Department of Fish and Game, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Yurok, Hoopa Valley and Karuk tribes have been actively engaged in these efforts since early summer.

These agencies and Tribes are active in a local group known as the Klamath Fish Health Assessment Team. The team was created during the summer of 2003 with the purpose of providing early warning and a coordinated response effort to avoid, or at least address, a fish kill event in the anadromous portion of the Klamath River Basin.

Through this team, the Service and its tribal partners from the Yurok, Hoopa Valley and Karuk Tribe, as well as other federal and state agencies, have coordinated strategies that resulted in increased monitoring throughout the summer and fall. Protocols for emergency response to fish mortality have been developed; phone trees and inventories of emergency response equipment such as jet boats, radios, and GPS units have been identified so these resources can be pooled and used most effectively in the event of a fish-kill.

Many members of this team as well as others also participated in a fish-kill investigation course that was held in mid-July in Arcata, Calif. The Service’s Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office , California-Nevada Fish Health Center and the National Conservation Training Center teamed up with the University of Houston-Clear Lake to sponsor this intensive three-day course.

Featuring a mix of classroom and field exercises, including a mock fish kill, instruction was provided by Dr. Scott Foott, Director of the California-Nevada Fish Health Center and Dr. George Guillen of the University of Houston-Clear Lake, who himself was with the Arcata FWO during the 2002 Klamath die-off.

Dr. Guillen noted that the course provided essential skills for first-responders and investigators such as estimation of numbers and types of fish killed, determination of cause, and presentation of legally and scientifically defensible results.

“Fish kills represent one of the most challenging scenarios that a field biologist will encounter during their career,” said Dr. Guillen. “A field investigator must know how to apply the principles of the scientific method under often stressful conditions. At the same time they must simultaneously deal with the demands and responsibility of having to inform the public in a manner that conveys essential information in an understandable format.”

In addition to these strategies, the Arcata FWO worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and other partners of the Trinity River Restoration Program’s “Flow Management Workgroup” to develop recommendations for increasing flows of the Trinity River to provide relief to the Klamath’s anticipated low flows between mid-August and late September. Under this plan, flows from the Trinity River potentially decreased crowding of the abundant run in the lower river, thereby reducing the chance of disease transmission between individuals as well as helped to cool the lower Klamath River, according to Nick Hetrick a supervisory fish biologist from the Arcata FWO.

The plan also calls for an emergency release of additional water from the Trinity should an outbreak of infectious fish disease becomes imminent For example, if the potential for a disease outbreak was confirmed by the California/Nevada Fish Health Center, Reclamation agreed to double the flow on the lower Klamath River for seven days. This action will help further disperse salmon and flush disease organisms from the river in an effort to minimize a disease outbreak.

 NBC Nightly News: Salmon make a comeback in California, October 9, 2012

Contact Info: Matt Baun, 530-841-3119, matt_baun@fws.gov
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