North Coast anglers just experienced the best ocean Chinook salmon sport fishing in decades and many of the fish off the mouth of Humboldt Bay may be returning to the Eel River to spawn. Anglers have recognized a rebound in Eel River salmon since about 2006 and runs of fall Chinook in 2010 and 2011 broke records at Van Arsdale Fish Station at the lower end of the Potter Valley Project. Thousands of fish spawned throughout the basin and runs are likely in the range of 10,000-30,000 fish or more, which is similar to 1955-1958 population estimates.
The lower Eel River area targeted extends from above the Van Duzen River to below Fernbridge. Dives will take place until steady rains and high flows disperse the fish. Volunteer divers will be paired with trained professionals who can help newcomers learn how to count fish quickly and expand the team’s capacity. Volunteers have to be very good swimmers and okay with cold water. Wetsuits, masks and snorkels will be provided for volunteers who don’t have gear.
Bear River and Wiyot Tribe staff will be participating in dives and fisheries biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Arcata Office will also be assisting. A similar dive on Oct. 1, 2010 counted over 434 Chinook salmon from Fernbridge to the mouth of the Van Duzen and over 600 were counted during an Oct. 6, 2011 survey.
These counts did not coincide with peak abundance and expanding the number of divers available by recruiting volunteers should help increase flexibility to capture peak run data in brief windows of water clarity following storms. Flows on the Eel River are currently on 60 cubic feet per second (cfs) according to the U.S. Geologic Survey flow gauge at Scotia, which is just 55% of the 99-year average of 110 cfs for this date. Such low flows prevent large-scale migrations of Chinook salmon and may delay entry from the ocean.
The Eel River Recovery Project is a volunteer based organization that wants to help collect better water quality and fisheries data on the Eel River and to support grassroots restoration. Dives are scheduled for Sept. 28, Oct. 13, Oct. 26 and November 9, although flows may change dates. Divers will meet next Friday at River Lodge at 8:30 a.m., but anyone interested in volunteering should check in before with ERRP Volunteer Coordinator Pat Higgins at 223-7200. See www.eelriverrecovery.org for more information.
1. Vince DiMarzo (left) of the Wiyot Environmental Department, ERRP Volunteer Coordinator Pat Higgins (center) and retired Ferndale High teacher and ERRP volunteer David Sopjes doing reconnaissance on Aug. 10, 2012.
2. Madison Ayala of the Bear River Tribe underwater in Oct. 2010.
3. PHOTO BY PAT HIGGINS
School of fall Chinook salmon holding above Fernbridge on Oct. 22, 2010.