Spring Newsletter: Challenges of 2014

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The 2013-14 spawning and planting season was a challenge! The late rains kept the spawning runs at sea dodging hungry predators. There was a push to complete the plan and permitting for opening Scott Creek sandbar to let fish in, but there was so little water in the creek and estuary that the risk of accidentally dewatering the estuary was too great. Thousands of smolts and pre-smolts were present in the lagoon at that time. Also, by then it appeared that the coho had gone somewhere else. When the San Lorenzo River opened briefly in early January its lagoon filled up with steelhead and a good number of Scott Creek origin coho. A brood-fish trapping operation resulted in the collection of 19 coho jacks which added ten families to our spawning lots thus increasing the genetic diversity of our production substantially.

While over 100 steelhead were seen in the San Lorenzo Lagoon during the trapping of coho, we were not allowed to collect any at that location. When the rains finally came our trapping volunteers performed admirably as usual and good broodfish were collected in Felton according to our protocols. Steelhead smolt planting went smoothly with over 36,000 wild-strain fish released thanks to the assistance of our volunteers. The coho planting is being staggered over several months as part of a scientific study by NOAA Fisheries.

Critical sanitation system needed for hatchery!
The biggest challenge we faced this year was also a substantial problem last season. Infection by Saprolegnia fungus is killing far too many fish. This fungus is naturally occurring in the watershed and the spoors are primarily brought in with the water from Big Creek. Rain rinses the fungal spoors down slope and into the creeks. It is not fully understood why fungal infections have been such a problem in the last couple of years. The hatchery is scrubbed clean and fully disinfected every year. Typically most fungal spoors get hung-up in the forest duff, but since the Lockheed Fire there is not as much of a filter on the slopes. Also, observations of fungal infections of fish in the wild (both in the San Lorenzo and Scott Creek) have gone way up too. In low water years the fish get more abraded working their way upstream. These abrasions provide a place for the fungus to take hold. Sediment laden water also stresses the fish and causes some abrasion to the slime layer.

MBSTP has resolved that we need to solve the fungus issue in our hatchery without further delay. Too much money, labor, and hope is invested in our fish to allow losses that could be prevented. In commercial aquaculture and big hatcheries the Saprolegnia fungus is a typical nuisance. Water filtration and sterilization using ultraviolet light is the usual polution and it does work. We have won a grant from NOAA to have the system designed by a professional aquiculture engineer. Additional grant funding from the Rose Foundation and the Nell Neumann Foundation gives us $40,000 to install the system. We won’t know the total cost until we have an engineered plan, but it will be very expensive. It will likely be more than twice what we have for the project. We are looking for additional grant funding, but will need substantial donor support to accomplish this critical hatchery upgrade. All contributions are deeply appreciated. Please help!

In part, due to losses of steelhead brood-fish to fungal infections, the STEP classroom aquarium steelhead egg incubation educational experience could not be done in any schools this year. We do not want that to happen again. Recent success with the Coho Captive Brood-stock Program has stimulated confidence that we can recover the southern coho. MBSTP has won another FRGP grant to run the Program through the winter of 2018. None of these funds can be used to improve the hatchery facility. A State law prevents it. A Monterey Bay Silver salmon run is a very real possibility, but only if we can operate the hatchery at maximum efficiency. We hope you will help us prevent the fungus and thus enable the return of the coho!

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