North Coast residents urged to report salmon run on Eel River
by Dan Bacher
Friday Oct 14th, 2011 8:25 AM
The call to report fish sightings comes a time when the campaign by Indian Tribes, environmentalists and fishermen to restore salmon and steelhead populations on the Eel River is building momentum.
Photo of Wiyot dancers during a ceremony to restore the Eel River on September 10 by Nadananda.
North Coast residents urged to report salmon run on the Eel River
by Dan Bacher
Friends of the Eel River (FOER) on October 14 issued a call for local residents to watch for and report sightings of Chinook salmon migrating up the Eel River and its tributaries in northern California. The non-profit advocacy organization will use “fish-watcher” reports to build a more detailed picture of salmon spawning and migration patterns on the river, according to a statement from the group.
The call to report fish sightings comes a time when the campaign by Indian Tribes, environmentalists and fishermen to restore salmon and steelhead populations on the river is building momentum. On September 10, the Wiyot Tribe and Friends of the Eel River were joined by Native American Indian tribes from throughout Northern California in a prayer ceremony focused on returning the Eel River and the fisheries it supports to a healthy, sustainable state.
“The fall salmon run up the Eel has begun, but low water levels upstream have led to concern about potential fish kills if this threatened species are left stranded by insufficient flows,” according to Scott Greacen, Friends of the Eel River. “This information could also help federal and state fisheries agencies decide whether to release additional water from the Potter Valley Project to augment flows in the mainstem Eel in the next few weeks, if the area doesn’t get more rain soon.”
The group is asking the public to call or e-mail their main office to report sightings. Reports should note the date and time, specific location, and the number and condition of the fish sighted when calling in reports. If possible, observers should take note of whether salmon were bright silver or dark, strong or struggling, and whether there is any evidence of or potential for stranding. Friends of the Eel River can be reached at (415) 332-9810 or by e-mail at foer [at] eelriver.org.
The Eel River is California’s third largest watershed, third largest salmon producing river, and second largest steelhead producing river. The vast majority of Eel River water is diverted into the Russian River through the dams and diversion tunnel that comprise PG&E’s Potter Valley Project.
This highly controlled river system is vulnerable to insufficient flows unless the river system either experiences high levels of rainfall or water is released into the river under the direction of California’s Department of Fish and Game (DFG).
“Salmon runs on the Eel River are an important part of our local heritage and our economy,” said Nadananda, Executive Director of Friends of the Eel River. “Local residents helping to track and count these fish will assist greatly in our work to preserve these fish and improve river conditions on the Eel.”
The Eel River is proving to be a rare bright spot in efforts to recover endangered Coho and Chinook salmon, in part because the migratory fish returning to this watershed are wild and not of hatchery origin. The fall run of salmon in 2010 was the largest seen in 77 years due to increased flows to the Eel River mandated by FERC and advocated for by Friends of the Eel River. Friends of the Eel is greatly concerned that this recovery will lose ground if DFG does not release sufficient water to support consistent water flows on the river during these important weeks.
For more information, contact: Scott Greacen, Friends of the Eel River (707) 502-4555, foer [at] eelriver.org.
Tribes join together to restore Eel River
Native American Indian tribes from throughout Northern California joined the Wiyot Tribe and Friends of the Eel River in a historic prayer ceremony focused on returning the Eel River and the fisheries it supports to a healthy, sustainable state on September 10, 2011. This event follows several similar ceremonies held since 2009 that have taken place in different parts of the nearly 3,600-square mile Eel River watershed.
“Rivers need water to survive,” said Nadananda, Executive Director of the Friends of the Eel River. “The cost of diverting so much water out of the Eel River is simply too high. Salmon and steelhead are on the brink of extinction here. While increases in water flows over the past five years have made it possible for Chinook salmon populations to begin to make a comeback, significantly more water will need to be returned to the river if we are going to save these fish.”
In 2004, dam owner PG&E increased flows on the Eel River from 5 cubic feet/second to 20-25 cubic feet/second under the orders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The 2010 fall run of Chinook Salmon on the Eel River was the largest recorded in 77 years, with more than 2,300 adult fish migrating upriver to spawn. Last year’s salmon run also benefitted from an unusually heavy rain season.
This event marks the first time that so many different tribes came together in call for healing on the river. Salmon are a sacred fish and traditional source of food for the Round Valley Tribes and other Native American Indians who were once the only human inhabitants of this remote watershed.
The prayer ceremony was attended by members of the Bear River, Cahto, Grindstone, Sherwood Rancheria, Round Valley, Pomo, Hoopa, Yurok, and Karuk Tribes, several of which performed tribal prayer dances at the mouth of the river on the Wiyot’s Table Bluff Reservation.
”This day, Wiyot Day, is a way to show respect for our elders and for where we come from — for many of us, the Eel River is a big part of that,” Wiyot Tribal Chairman Ted Hernandez told the Eureka Times-Standard. (http://www.times-standard.com/localnews/ci_18872049)
“The tribes native to this area once thrived on the abundant salmon runs on the Eel River,” said former Round Valley Tribal Council member and current Friends of the Eel River board member Ernie Merrifield. “We must rely on all of our resources – spiritual, scientific, and legal – to restore this river and these fisheries to health. If we work together, we may have a chance to reverse the damage caused by a century of water deprivation.”
Last year’s record salmon run, the largest number of fish counted at the Van Arsdale Fisheries Station on the Eel River below Cape Horn Dam since the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) began keeping records, arrived just a few months after members of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo conducted dances and ceremonies to bring back the salmon.
In July of 2010, the Feather Dancers of the Tribes joined Friends of the Eel River at a swimming hole in the Hearst area, a few miles downstream of the PG&E Potter Valley diversion (PVP) to the Russian River. (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2010/12/21/largest-salmon-run-on-eel-river-in-77-years-arrives-after-tribal-ceremonies).
“Water and salmon hold sacred value among the Tribes of the Round Valley, and both have been bankrupted,” said Merrifield. “Like a person, if you block the free flow of blood in your veins you will die, just as PG&E’s dams are killing the Eel River.”
FOER will continue its efforts to improve river conditions in the coming year. The group will present information to the State Water Resources Board next year as Sonoma County renegotiates flows between the Russian and Eel Rivers. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, the current flow regimes on both rivers are damaging endangered salmon and steelhead habitat due to insufficient water in the Eel and too much water in the Russian.
FOER is also a party to an ongoing lawsuit aimed at preventing an environmentally damaging quarry and freight railroad from reopening within the sensitive Eel River watershed.
About Friends of the Eel River (https://www.eelriver.org)
Friends of the Eel River (FOER) is an environmental advocacy organization with more than 2,200 members. The organization strives to restore the Eel River and its tributaries to a wild and natural state of abundance. FOER works with scientists, fisheries experts, sport fishing alliances, river recreationalists, and concerned citizens to advocate for an increase in flows to the river that would enable native salmon and steelhead to once again thrive in the watershed.
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