Low Flows Endanger Russian River Coho Salmon

The abnormally dry winter weather is causing problems for more than just ski resorts in the Sierra.

Penny Crane/USWFS

Coho salmon turn red in their spawning stage.

The endangered coho salmon, which has slowly been making a comeback, faces another threat, this time from low flows in the Russian River.

Bob Norberg of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat has been reporting on the plight of the coho.

A major difficulty brought by reduced rain is the fish are still in the Russian River’s main stem rather than in the tributaries where they are usually spawning by now.

As a result, the Sonoma County Water Agency is distributing 20,000 cards with pictures and identifying characteristics at places where fishing licenses are purchased, in addition to the 20,000 printed two years ago.

“We kept hearing from people that there were coho in the river and we were hearing that the anglers would not be able to tell the difference and they would keep the coho,” said Ann DuBay, water agency spokeswoman.

NOAA

This map shows the rivers in central California where endangered coho salmon live.

Coho are native to the Russian River. Biologists say the Russian River coho are genetically distinct from coho found in other California rivers. For the past ten years an Army Corps of Engineers conservation program has worked to breed wild fish and release them into the river to spawn. Slowly the coho populations have grown, but the recent dry weather is an unwelcome setback to their fragile gains.

  • Pace

    National Fish and Wildlife Foundation identifies following threats: altered hydrologic 

    regime and low summer flows, fish passage barriers, riparian disturbance, altered sediment regime, 

    channel modification, and low population numbers.