[acn-l] NMFS skeptical of San Diego's new S. Steelhead population (fwd)

peter.unmack at asu.edu
Thu, 08 Jul 1999 08:41:35 -0700 (MST)

Thought this might be of interest.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 06 Jul 1999 19:57:24 -0400 (EDT)
From: DavidOrr at AOL.COM
To: afs-l at wyoming.com
Subject: NMFS skeptical of San Diego's new S. Steelhead population

Rare Trout in Local Creek Are Making Quite a Splash

by Terry Rodgers
San Diego Union

June 24, 1999

Scientific tests indicate that trout found last winter in San Mateo Creek
in northern San Diego County are southern steelhead, a rare fish that has
adapted to Southern California's arid climate and prickly landscape.

If the tests pass scrutiny by federal scientists, the findings could
force the government to extend its current extinction boundary for
southern steelhead an additional 120 miles to the south into San Diego

Difinitive proof that steelhead trout are reproducing in the stream could
also affect the amount of water being pumped from natural underground
supplies of the aquifer below Camp Pendleton and northern Orange County.

Environmentalists have speculated that the unexpected appearance of the
steelhead could complicate, if not alter, plans to extend a freeway toll
road across southern Orange County by forcing Caltrans to do additional

Conservationists hailed the test results as proof that nature has defied
conclusions of the bureaucracy: A population that federal biologists had
written off as extinct has reappeared.

"These are now the rarest of all the steelhead in the world," said Alln
Greenwood of San Diego Trout, a trout conservation group. "It's time now
for the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect them."

Despite the evidence, biologists at the Long Beach office of the
fisheries service remained skeptical.

In an interview yesterday, Jim Lecky, assistant regional administrator,
said even if the trout are proven beyond all doubt to be steelhead, the
fish must pass a less scientific test.

Lecky said he needs to be convinced that the San Mateo Creek trout are a
"sustainable" population-- a permanent group, rather than one that will
become extinct in a year or two.

While sporadic sightings of steelhead in San Mateo Creek have been
reported for decades, a lack of documentary evidence prompted the
National Marine Fisheries Service two years ago to declare southern
steelhead extinct south of Malibu Creek, north of Los Angeles.

The new test results show that a sample trout taken from San Mateo Creek
was the offspring of a female steelhead who developed her eggs while
living in the ocean.

"This proves that the fish wasn't planted by someone who got ahold of
some freshwater trout" and surreptitiously put them in the stream, said
Alex Vejar, a fisheries biologies in San Diego with the state Fish and
Game Department.

"What this shows is that the fish had to come from the ocean, then move
upstream and spawn, " Vejar said.

While the test results are preliminary, the lab findings bolster
scientists' observations at the creek that the fish, which were
discovered in February, looked like steelhead.

Vejar, who has been removing non-native bullhead, bass and sunfish from
the trout pools about 10 miles from the mouth of the creek, estimates
there are 30 or more steelhead there.

Steelhead--often mistakenly referred to as salmon-- are rainbow trout
that physiclly change into oceangoing fish and later return to spawn in
their native streams. Unlike salmon, another anadromous fish, steelhead
don't always die after spawning.

The analysis of the San Mateo trout was done by Oregon State University
scientists who tested a piece of bone on the ear of the trout, known as
ear stones or otoliths, said Rober Titus, a state fisheries biologist in

"Personally, I regard San Mateo Creek as a steelhead stream--period,"
said Titus.

Such confidence contrasts sharply with the hedging by federal scientists.

Lecky of the National Marine Fisheries Service said if he and his team
conclude that the steelhead are likely to die off during a drought, the
agency may not recommend extending the steelhead extinction boundary or
listing the area as critical habitat.

"The question is, is there a sustainable population down there and does
it need to be incorporated into the population that's already listed, "
he said.

Lecky said he also wanted to examine the results of genetic tests, which
are still being done at the Hopkins Marine Laborartory operated by
Standford University.

Dennis McEwen, a state biologist and steelhead expert, said the fisheries
service seems to be applying a tougher standard to the trout found in San
Mateo Creek than elswhere in its West Coast range, which extends across
the Pacific Northwest into Canada and Alaska.

"Nowhere else in the range of steelhead do we subject them to this kind
of detailed analysis just to prove they need protection," said McEwen.
"We have a naturally spawning population of native fish down there, and
they should be protected."

Critics say the fisheries service has not moved quickly enough to protect
the rare steelhead, which are biologically important because they may
contain genes that could help the species survive.

"The National Marine Fisheries Service has done nothing to protect them,
which is absurd, " said Greenwood, the San Diego conservationist. "There
are fewer of these fish in San Mateo Creek than there are California
condors, and the government has spent millions to save the condors."

Lecky bristled at the suggestion his agency is dragging its feet.

"Just because someone found a fish in a stream outside the range doesn't
mean I'm going to apply" the federal Endangered Species Act, he said.
"I'm going to do an analysis to determine if it's warranted."



David Orr
<davidorr at aol.com>

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