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Salmon Spawning Rebound Put At Risk By Drought

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Coho Salmon

Coho Salmon (www.nmfs.noaa.gov)

JEFFREY%20SCHAUB Jeffrey Schaub
Jeffrey Schaub is a Bay Area broadcast news veteran. From 1990 to 201...
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SANTA ROSA (KCBS)— Water officials in Sonoma County, concerned about the affect the drought is having in salmon in North Bay rivers, have called for a ban on fishing in the Russian River watershed. The situation is so bad that fish may need to be trucked to spawning grounds.

Sonoma and Mendocino Counties rely on a good amount of their water supply from the Eel River that flows into Lake Mendocino, which is experiencing low levels.

To protect salmon stock in the Eel and Russian rivers, federal authorities reduced flows from the Eel River, affecting drinking-water supplies.

Grant Davis, General Manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, said they primarily rely on the Russian River and import a portion out of the Eel when available.

Davis said because Lake Mendocino’s levels are so low, barely a fifth of its capacity, the City of Healdsburg and Cloverdale have had to impose mandatory water reductions.

Due to low flows on the Russian River Watershed, mandatory water conservation may be ordered for up to 600,000 in Sonoma and Marin.

Outdoorsmen and others who make their living on the rivers worry about the lasting effects on the industry and the potential of other fishing bans.

Salmon and steelhead trout already have a tough time spawning, but the emergency closures are meant to provide sufficient passage for migrating fish.

“The largest portion of the spawning activity happens in the smaller streams,” said Mike Michalak who owns The Fly Shop in Redding. It claims to be the country’s largest fly-fishing store.

Michalak hasn’t seen water levels this low in over 30 years, but he applauds what the state is doing to protect future populations.

“We, as an example, sold tens of thousands of flys to anglers who were going to fish coastal steelhead. Those are tens of thousands of flys that won’t get sold this year, but so what? That’s too bad for us, but in the greater perspective, it’s what’s best for the fishery.”

However, fishermen aren’t the only ones at a loss for income. Resorts, sporting goods stores and anyone that caters to outdoorsmen are threatened too.

“Those fly fisherman that generally think about small mountain streams had better start thinking about somewhere else,” Michalak said.

And its not just January, February and March he’s worried about, it’s what happens to other wildlife if there’s not enough water?

“What happens to deer season or duck hunting season or any other game?” he asked.

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