Wednesday, May 13, 2009

fish rescue

According to the Ventura County Star, fisheries biologists last week captured and relocated 14 juvenile steelhead from a pool on the Ventura River. These fish were in danger of stranding as the river dries up. I took these photos the evening before and morning after the rescue. Within 36 hours, the inflow was gone and the pool had become a muddy water hole.

Stan Glowacki spent an entire work day fishing the Ventura River.

These were not ordinary fish he was seeking and they weren’t destined for Glowacki’s frying pan.

The fisheries biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service was trying to catch 14 steelhead trout that were in a quickly evaporating pool in the Ventura River last week and move them upstream to deeper pools where they could wait out the hot summer.

It’s a problem that happens every year and Glowacki’s office is flooded with calls to help the endangered fish. And every year, an ad hoc plan is drawn up on how to deal with the issue. Until this year.

NMFS is working with the California Department of Fish & Game to come up with a permanent plan on what to do with the fish when waterways in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties dry up.

“The purpose is to enhance survival of this species,” Glowacki said. “We are talking big picture and the big objective is to increase survival. Otherwise, we are losing hundreds of fish every year. We need to do whatever we can to enhance survival.”

A federal permit to handle the endangered fish is expected to be completed by the end of this month and will detail how the fish will be saved. The plan gives Glowacki and Fish & Game biologists leeway to take the fish upstream or downstream depending on the river conditions that year.

Some say that while a plan is needed, they wonder if moving the fish farther upstream away from the ocean, their migration destination, is the wrong solution to the problem.

“The good news with this is for the first time in recent history, there is some action being taken for these guys,” said Paul Jenkin, executive director of the Matilija Coalition. “But it is my feeling that we should help them get downstream as opposed to upstream.”

He thinks that moving the steelhead upstream could make the task of getting past the Robles Diversion, which diverts water from the river to Lake Casitas, and eventually to the ocean, all that much harder.

Russ Baggerly, another environmentalist who had campaigned on behalf of the fish, agreed.

“It does seem counter-intuitive to take them upstream,” he said. “Everything within their bodies is telling them ‘Get me downstream.’ ”

But Glowacki said the fish have a better chance, at least this year, of surviving upstream where there isn’t the problem of the river drying up.

“The argument is where are they going to survive the best and where is their best chance of survival,” he said.

Taking them downstream or into the Ventura River estuary during dry summers could harm the fish more than help them, he said. Every year, he said the decision to take the fish upstream or downstream should be based on the river conditions.

Jenkin said he’s just glad that something is being done to help the species and keep them from dying in shrinking pools.

“I’d hate to see more crispy critters dried up on the river,” he said.