This year 129 steelhead trout made it back from the ocean into the River and 126 made it over the Los Padres Dam. This is a dramatic increase over 2018 and a good sign for both the species and the health of the river. Just two years ago, only 29 steelhead made it over the Los Padres Dam. Steelhead are a hardy species, and with a little help from the CRWC, the Carmel River Steelhead Association and other local conservation groups, they are making a comeback.
This year we also had more than 18,000 trout rescued. 58 people assisted with rescues during the season, many of which were new volunteers. Brian LeNeve of the Carmel River Steelhead Association led these volunteers along the river to tributaries with low volumes of water to capture stranded youngling trout as small as a single inch long. Using nets, buckets, an electroshocker backpack, and quick reflexes, the fish were caught and rereleased near the Carmel River Lagoon. National Marine Fisheries assisted in rescues this year and their staff were also able to tag the fish. The trout are tagged with tiny chips, about the size of a grain of rice, and when they travel back up the Carmel River in a few years, fisheries scientists can track which individuals have come back up the River and potentially over the Los Padres Dam. Tracking fish can provide critical insights to when particular individuals return to their spawning ground and how many of those individuals who were saved return back up the River. This information is important for informing environmental policies, assessing the health of the species, and evaluating the work of these volunteer teams. This program is critical to the preservation of steelhead trout in the Carmel River and the continued increase in trout making it over the Los Padres Dam and potentially out to sea.
The return of steelhead indicates a significant ecological impact. Returning steelhead are a sign that water quality and riverbed quality are good enough to house both spawning fish and juveniles. This development signifies a positive shift in the overall health of the river. As Brian LeNeve says, “We’ve turned a river around from one of the 10 most threatened in California to one with hope.” CRWC thanks Brian LeNeve and his team for all the work they are doing and will continue to support the efforts to return the Carmel River to its former health and beauty, which includes the support of its threatened species.