Plea to save fish

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This is a response to letters against the restoration and maintenance of stream habitat for steelhead trout in the Santa Monica Mountains, to the assertion that any Santa Monica Mountains steelhead are the result of a 100-year-ago stocking program and steelhead in Malibu Creek weren’t above the Rindge Dam.

Steelhead bones and otoliths (ear bones) exist at Chumash sites inland of the Santa Monicas. Steelhead, and possibly salmon, were in the Santa Monicas before the white man. Chumash had fishing gear for large freshwater fish such as steelhead. Early 1900s interviews with elderly Chumash indicate the fish was a food source during rainy months. Portola, 1769, reports a salmon-like fish migrating up coastal streams during rainy months when the coastal streams ran to the sea.

The Southern California steelhead strain is genetically different than the fish stocked under the Fish Commission program. The stocked fish were Northern California fish raised in a hatchery at Mt. Lassen. The stocking records in the Fish Commission Biannual Reports do not list where these fish were stocked so we have no confirmation that any were stocked in Southern California. The genetic chart for the steelhead now present in Southern California is different than that for the Northern California strains. Our fish is unique. Its genetic markers indicate there is almost no chance our fish came from the above stocking program.

The Southern California fish has the very unique ability to reproduce, survive, and prosper in Southern California’s intermittent streams. These streams may flow only 10% of the time. These streams must have year round, spring fed water in their upper reaches. This ability to survive in intermittent streams is why there’s interest in sustaining the unique Southern California strain. We may need this fish to restock Central and Northern California streams. Steelhead are rainbow trout, same specie, that have opted to go to sea. Rainbow do make spawning migrations. Frederick Rindge wanted trout streams on his ranch. He had them. The rainbow/steelhead habitat connection is here. Study Chumash history, the Spanish reports, fish genetics, fish biologists thinking. Rethink your efforts to block the maintenance and restoration of habitat for this fish.

Bo Meyer