The National Marine Fisheries Service released the final version of a comprehensive report about the issues and possible solutions for endangered steelhead trout populations throughout Southern California’s creeks and rivers.
The “Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan,” issued last month, is based off 12 years of research and claims river and watershed degradation have had a detrimental effect on steelhead trout populations. The plan would require $1.7 to 2.1 billion to monitor and fine-tune waterways over the course of the next 80 to 100 years depending on how fish populations respond.
According to UCSB’s Research Experience and Education Facility manager Scott Simon, steelhead are anadromous, living in salt water for the majority of their lives until they migrate up freshwater streams to breed. Steelhead populations have declined in recent years due to manmade obstacles such as dams, bridges and other water diversions lowering water levels and preventing the fish from reaching their natural spawning grounds.
NMFS Recovery Coordinator Mark Capelli said the plan would provide an effective foundation for supporting the endangered fish.
“It is a blueprint for how to go about recovering this listed species in Southern California,” Capelli said. “There is not a specific budget for it, but there are quite a number of funding sources for the recovery activities identified in the plan. There are a series of federal and state and local sources we have identified.”
A portion of the allocated funds will retrofit concrete flood control channels along Highway 101 to aid the upstream migration and facilitate breeding.
David Boughton, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s population dynamics and ecosystems researcher for the project, said the species will recover if given help.
“Based on the traits of the fish and the ecology, there is a lot of evidence to suggest a recovery effort would be successful,” Boughton said. “I am very optimistic that they would respond well.”
According to Boughton, the species’s survival is important for the community.
“The steelhead — they are a resource lots of people seem to care about,” Boughton said. “They could be, in principle, harvested and can be used for recreational fisheries. Also, to help them [means] restoration of stream habitats, which is not just for the steelheads.”
According to Capelli, steelhead populations are a microcosm for the relative health of local waterways in general.
“These fish are a good indicator of the overall health of our watershed,” Capelli said. “Where we see good numbers of these fish, we see good health of the watershed. Where we do not see any, it is a good indication of a problem with the watershed.”
Capelli said there are numerous ways for the public to contribute to the steelhead population’s recovery efforts.
“There is the City of Santa Barbara’s Creek Program, Environmental Defense Center, Urban Creeks and the Conception Coast Project,” Capelli said. “All of these entities are working one way or the other on restoring the habitats of these fish. The city also does an annual creek clean-up people can participate in.”New Plan Endeavors to Save Endangered Trout