Coastside conservationists (literally) carry a native species on their shoulders

Story by Sarah Wright // Photos by Adam Pardee

Juvenile coho salmon are released into Pescadero Creek in Memorial Park in Loma Mar on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (Photo by Adam Pardee /HMB Review)

Coho salmon are set to make a comeback on the South Coast. Last week, 10,000 of the young fish were released into Pescadero Creek after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, nonprofit Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project, and the San Mateo Resource Conservation District (RCD) partnered to repopulate the stream.

According to a press release from the RCD, the fish were bred at a hatchery in Santa Cruz County before being released into the creek, just one of two watersheds in the Santa Cruz Mountains that is fit for coho spawning and survival. (Coho salmon—known for their silver sides—are one of the five types of salmon species found in the Pacific Ocean, and are native to the California coast as far south as Monterey Bay.)

For RCD Executive Director Kellyx Nelson, the moment was a pinnacle in her career, if not her life.

“This is utterly, truly, a watershed moment,” Nelson said. “This is life-affirming. This means that we have brought this watershed back to be healthy enough to be home again to 10,000 coho salmon and to give them a chance to come back from the brink of extinction.”

Junevile coho salmon are transferred from a tank and into backpacks used to deliver the salmon from a tank and into the Pescadero Creek in Memorial Park in Loma Mar on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (Lower left:) Jim Robins, owner of Alnus Ecological, readies a backpack for transfer. (Photos by Adam Pardee /HMB Review)

On November 17th, project leaders took a trek out to Loma Mar to distribute some of the fish into Pescadero Creek. A hatchery truck with a tank full of the salmon ventured down a trail in Memorial Park, where large pools of water were determined fit for the salmon. Using backpacks with large water tanks, project leaders transferred the fish from the tank and slowly poured them into Pescadero Creek. Hatchery employees were also onsite moving fish into the backpacks and monitoring their transfer into the creek, and an Ohlone tribe member offered a welcome to the salmon.

Although just an estimated 2 percent of the fish are expected to survive into adulthood of the species’ three-year lifespan, the newly restored channels provide a lifeline for those that make the trip to and from the ocean during their “extraordinary lifecycle,” Nelson said.

Executive Director of the San Mateo Conservation District Kellyx Nelson removes the lid from a backpack used to transfer juvenile coho salmon from a tank and into the Pescadero Creek in Memorial Park in Loma Mar on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (Photo by Adam Pardee /HMB Review)

“The fish we put in the creek today and yesterday will be the ancestors of future generations,” Nelson said.

Due to recent wildfires that threatened the region and its ecosystems, including the hatchery where the fish were being raised, researchers identified Pescadero Creek as the best choice to support an independent population of the fish, with the hope they may eventually seed other nearby watersheds.

(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Half Moon Bay Review. This version is a cross-publishing collaboration between our two publications.)

Juvenile Coho Salmon are realeased into Pescadero Creek in Memorial Park in Loma Mar on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (Photo by Adam Pardee /HMB Review)

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