Hundreds of dead steelhead again
Hundreds of dead steelhead line the shorelines in the Pescadero Marsh.
Searching through 4 feet high tule in thick muck and heavy rains is in no way going to yield an accurate count. These results are only a small percentage of actual mortality rates. Many others were likely washed out to sea during breach or remain on the bottom in deep waters. Also, many predatory birds were observed along the shorelines during breach. Due to lack of time and energy, many areas were not searched thoroughly. I personally counted 180 dead steelhead.
11/11/2011- During my search, which pains me to say I have been conducting every year for the past 15 years, I am mystified as to how this has been allowed to happen every year for 15 years without even the slightest of hands being reached out to help these poor fish. They are swimming around every year just waiting out a death sentence. This year’s death sentence was served on 11/11/2011, where I found many dead individual fish scattered around throughout the tule and along the shorelines. In many areas there were several or dozens of dead steelhead bunched together. I observed many steelhead at the surface grasping for air and watched several dead steelhead floating out into the ocean. Oxygen levels were very low and water quality was very poor giving off a strong sulfur odor. Fish ranged in size from four inches up to 24 inches, most of the dead fish I observed were between 8 and 10 inches. There appeared to be far more dead fish this year than in the last 4 or 5 years.
What is killing the fish?
Studies indicate that during long periods of sandbar closure when waters start to back up and jump low levees and flow through rusted open tidal gates within the Pescadero Marsh, a deadly natural process begins to happen. This natural process causes some waters within the Pescadero Marsh to become anoxic. Anoxic waters are areas of sea water or fresh water that are depleted of dissolved oxygen. Anoxic conditions result from several factors; for example, stagnation conditions, density stratification, inputs of organic material, and strong thermoclines; all of which are dangers present in the Pescadero Marsh. When oxygen is depleted, bacteria first turn to the second-best electron acceptor, which in sea water is nitrate. Denitrification occurs, then after reducing some other minor elements, the bacteria will turn its attention to reducing sulfate. The bacterial production of sulfide starts in the sediments, where the bacteria find suitable substrates, and then expands into the water column. This is what causes that strong “rotten egg” odor emanating from the marsh. It is so strong, that you can smell it as you drive along the marsh on Hwy 1 and along Pescadero Road. If the wind is right it could be smelled all the way into the town of Pescadero, which is [two] miles inland. When the sandbar breaks and these conditions exist all that anoxic water starts to funnel out into the ocean and when the bottom matter is stirred up it creates a very toxic environment. The fish are suffocated and die immediately.
According to geologic record, anoxic events happening in the past may have caused mass extinctions.
Studies have also shown that when State Parks projects were done in the 1990′s, it changed the natural way the sandbar opens and closes. Many levees were altered and even built by State Parks. They also installed a series of tidal gates allowing salt water to enter the north pond, which after only one year became inoperable because of rust. The tidal gates were never fixed and are still inoperable to this day as they remain rusted open. These modifications created new areas for water to fill within the system and have contributed to the anoxic conditions and have changed the natural opening and closing of the sandbar. With this in mind the proposed temporary solution of skimming the sandbar should not be denied by State Parks under the excuse that opening the sandbar is not natural. State Parks itself changed the natural ecosystem that nature created when they made these modifications. And as such, it became their sole responsibility to make sure the system continues to function correctly. As you can see they have failed the system by allowing these anoxic conditions to occur and have failed to protect everything living in the Pescadero Marsh for the last 15 years.
State Parks? You say you need more studies. What are you studying that takes 15 years to learn? Seriously, wake up. This problem is not just going to fix itself and it is not going to go away. If you do nothing again this will keep happening again and again as it has for the last 15 years. What part of this picture do you not understand? Your plan is to study, so as the years go by you will start to studiously count fewer and fewer fish until you count none. Then you will say “No more fish are dying it must be fixed.” When in reality none are dying because none are left, or you will say your other favorite thing, “IT’S NOT THAT BAD.”
Though when in reality it is that bad. It’s not just bad, it’s tragic. It’s tragic, because this could be fixed.
Every photo/orange dot you see WAS an INDIVIDUAL LIFE and was taken because of State Parks refusal to take ANY kind of PROACTIVE conservation efforts. State Parks REACTIVE conservation effort this year was to take 5 gallon buckets equipped with aerators in an attempt to try and rescue distressed steelhead. I stood there and watched them fill the buckets with the same water that was killing the fish in the first place. Adding a few bubbles with an aerator is not going to turn ANOXIC water into a magic healing solution for steelhead. If anoxic sea water becomes re-oxygenized, sulfides will be oxidized to sulfate. Never mind that hundreds of dead fish are already laying all over the place, it is pouring down rain and the water clarity is black. Good luck seeing anything healthy enough to rescue. I have been on site for these “fish kills” for the past 15 years and hardly ever have I seen an opportunity to rescue a distressed fish, the only ones you see are already dead. Where have you been for the last 15 years? The effort is appreciated, but you are trying to save a few lives after you have already sentenced all the others to death by doing nothing to stop this from happening in the first place, not to mention you have already killed thousands and thousands of fish over the past 15 years.
DO YOUR JOBS AND MANAGE THE LAND YOU HAVE BEEN ENTRUSTED WITH OR STEP ASIDE AND LET SOMEONE ELSE DO IT FOR YOU!!!
For 14 years you have hired and funded numerous biologist and scientist who have made recommendations, endorsed by Fish and Game. Yet you continue to ignore their recommendations for a proactive course of action that could prevent the severity of these fish kills in the future. It’s time for you to make an impact on the future of this valuable ecosystem and do the job you should have done already.
Please contact your State and Federal politicians whether in California or any other State to voice your outrage that a California Department of State Parks can continue to be allowed to destroy our Wild Steelhead Trout.