Coho Salmon Return


Coho Salmon photo courtesy of Elizabeth Carnavale

By Chloe Bowman

After more than a decade-long absence, around 300 coho salmon have been spotted in Pine Gulch Creek, the largest number that Point Reyes National Seashore has seen in 20 years. Coho Salmon are considered endangered, but were once thriving in both the creek and the Pacific Ocean, from Northern California to the Chukchi Sea in Northern Alaska.

“Those that survive over the summer and through the winter will migrate out to sea next spring as molts. Hopefully several will return again as adults to keep the coho salmon population alive on Pine Gulch,” the park service staff shared in an update to their Instagram account on Aug. 3. 

Pine Gulch Creek is a seven-and-a-half-mile creek that flows from Point Reyes National Seashore and empties into the Bolinas Lagoon. Until the 1970s, the creek supported a steady population of Steelhead and Coho Salmon until environmental factors, including droughts and damming through locations of the watershed, led to a depletion in numbers of salmon.

“I feel hopeful that people are taking restoration and management projects more seriously—recognizing the importance of salmon as a keystone species in the ecosystem,” Tamalpais High School biology teacher [first name] Garcia said. “It’s crazy to think that every stream along California’s Northern Coast used to have its own genetically distinct salmon that spawned there … it’s encouraging to know that restoration efforts do and can make a difference.”

The National Park Service first discovered the return of Coho Salmon to Pine Gulch in 2001, where they remained in steady numbers, until the last reports of habitation in the creek ceased in 2010. Due to genetic testing, it was determined that the salmon found in 2010 had strayed from Redwood Creek, where they have genetically distinct features.

“I feel elated, proud and hopeful for the restoration and survival of this magnificent, iconic species. We as fishermen are conservationists first with a deep concern for the environment,” Bruce Kemp said, a local salmon fisherman, when asked about his feelings regarding the return of Coho Salmon to Pine Gulch Creek.

Kemp lives in Corte Madera, and has been fishing for most of his life. He has financially supported many conservation efforts for the salmon species, along with countless other fishermen. According to the National Park Service, “Since 1950, anglers across the United States have paid several billion dollars toward the conservation of waterways, wildlife habitat, and angler education. Anglers [people who go fishing] play a critical role in conserving wild places and animals in the United States.” 

Tam junior, Ella Emison, has been a member of the Surfrider Club since she was a freshman. The club is a chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that focuses on protecting and preserving oceans, beaches and waterways around the world. “The Coho comeback makes me hopeful for other endangered species. I think we need to use this comeback as motivation to continue helping our local ecosystems and doing our part in reducing our carbon footprint,” Emison said. 

Emison and other club members do many different things, including testing water in local waterways, with Pine Gulch Creek as a potential location. They focus on the environmental impact that everyone has, especially on local wildlife, such as Coho Salmon. “We are always looking for new projects and would be grateful to contribute in helping the salmon in Point Reyes, by taking water samples or working with local scientists to meet data needs and help protect that environment.”