Salmon in Lake Merritt More rainfall pushes them into Oakland Lagoon

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On December 4, Oakland resident Peggy Rehm traveled to the south shore of Lake Merritt as she normally does on Saturdays to see birds and search for other wildlife that sometimes enter through the canal connecting the lake. at the bay. “I’m a huge fan of Lake Merritt and its critters,” Rehm said. “I often see bat rays, stripes and am always on the lookout for birds. ”

It was a day to remember for Rehm, who struck up a conversation with a man who fished recreationally nearby, on the bridge near the Laney College football field. The man told Rehm to look at the water, and she was shocked by what she saw: several chinook salmon swimming in the channel. “He was very excited about the passage of the salmon,” Rehm said. “He said he caught three earlier in the week and then reported them to me.”

Chinook salmon, also known as king salmon, have been sighted in the rivers and streams of East Bay since late fall. According to Joe Sullivan, who manages the fishing program for the East Bay Regional Park District, salmon appear in the hundreds, which has not happened in two decades, largely due to drought conditions throughout. the region.

“It makes me super excited and I think it shows the resilience of this species,” said Sullivan, who counts chinook salmon as one of his favorite fish. “They are definitely in the top ten.”

Chinook salmon live in the Pacific Ocean but breed in freshwater rivers and streams. Soon after giving birth, the salmon die and either become a nutrient for nearby plants or a delicious meal for birds, raccoons, bears and other wildlife.

The resurgence of salmon in Oakland and other parts of the East Bay is due to heavy seasonal rainfall in the Bay Area, said George Neillands, senior supervisor of environmental sciences in the California Department of Fisheries and Fisheries. wildlife. “In a year like this, where we had rain from that big October storm, we have a lot of attractions coming from all the streams around the bay,” Neillands said, referring to the influx of fresh water that creates ideal breeding conditions for fish. “So these fish are falling right into these streams looking for a place to spawn.”

Apparently, some are now looking in Lake Merritt, which is not uncommon, but very unusual.

A dead chinook salmon spotted in Lake Merritt. Credit: Peggy rehm

“They happen when there is a great influx of freshwater from the bay, which would be through the Lake Merritt Canal,” said Katie Noonan, co-chair of Rotary Nature Center Friends, a citizen group that advocates for Rotary. Nature Center at Lakeside. Park that works to protect the wildlife of Lake Merritt. Noonan noted that a number of the salmon spotted in the lake died because they couldn’t find their way to a natural breeding ground.

Salmon that get lost or get stuck in an area before they can find a spawning ground are common in California for several reasons, Sullivan said. Salmon routes are often blocked by roadblocks, which many cannot cross.

“That’s why we don’t usually see as many salmon in the streams as we did before we started putting up all of these barriers,” Sullivan said.

Sometimes this can be aided by fish ladders, constructions that allow fish to easily pass over dams to the other side. But “building a fish ladder is expensive,” Sullivan said. “It’s millions of dollars. It’s not impossible to do, we just have to convince the right people that they need to provide access to these fish to get to their original spawning grounds.

Chinook salmon attempting to cross a concrete barricade in Alameda Creek to reach their spawning grounds. Credit: Dan Sarka

Drought conditions are also to blame, Neillands said. Since 2014, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has trucked salmon to the Bay Delta to “improve their survival and for harvesting and commercial purposes,” Neillands said. However, the trucking process does not allow the salmon to remember the way back to their home streams.

“So when they come back to the bay a number of them don’t know where to go,” Neillands said. “Many do, but it increases the number of stray fish.”

Warming temperatures have also caused the salmon population to plummet at an alarming rate, which has even led some commercial Bay Area salmon fishermen to quit the company. Chinook salmon are not yet listed as endangered, but federal protections have been put in place that make it illegal to harvest these salmon for consumption. “They’re a huge commercial resource,” Sullivan said, “so it’s to protect species and make sure they’re sustainable.”

The success of this season’s salmon run will depend on a continued amount of precipitation in the weeks to come, but Sullivan hopes more of these salmon can reach the streams they were born in and usher in a new generation.

“The kids are excited about it and schools have contacted me to find out more. [about the salmon]”Sullivan said of recent sightings in the East Bay waterways.” The amount of buzz these salmon have generated in the community is one more reason to try and get them back to their streams. “

Meanwhile, at Lake Merritt, Noonan wants to make visitors understand that it is illegal to fish chinook salmon without a state fishing license and salmon card, and that only a person with a scientific collector’s license d The state can recover them after their death.

“Let’s just enjoy their visit,” Noonan said.


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