The number of Coho salmon in Northern California's Shasta and Scott rivers in 2019 was too low to sustain a viable population. That’s according to a just-released report from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The most recent count identified only 334 Coho on the Scott, and 61 on the Shasta.
Felice Pace, with the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club, says, "Biologists tell us that you need 500 spawners minimum to have a viable genetic population. If you have less spawners than that the genetics start to get too narrow and that can make these species vulnerable."
One of the potential causes could be a drop in the flow rates of both rivers, causing the water temperatures to rise and fish to become trapped in shallow pools. According to Pace, water diversion by farmers and ranchers is at least partly to blame for the reduced flow. He says some of these diversions are actually illegal.
But Jim Morris, rancher and director of the Scott Valley Irrigation District, says says agriculture is being used as a scapegoat for a much bigger problem. "The reason we talk about flows and agriculture is that farmers have a physical address, and it's easy to walk up and say, 'it's your fault'. But I don't think that it always takes us to the crux of the problem."
Morris says loss of habitat does contribute to declining salmon runs, but so do many other factors. He says restoration of fish populations is just as much a goal of farmers as it is environmentalists.