Groups Unite In Coalition To Save Southern California

Steelhead Trout

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LOS ANGELES, February 14 -- A broad-based coalition of over 33 environmental, conservation, surfing, sport and commercial fishing, and river groups representing 220,000 Californians have joined together to fight for the survival of the Southern California steelhead trout. Populations of steelhead in Southern California have declined over 99% since the turn of the century, resulting in their listing as an endangered species.

A healthy steelhead population means a healthy river system -- the decline of steelhead in Southland rivers spells trouble for everyone, not just the fish. Steelhead are anadromous trout, which, like salmon, spend most of their adult life in the ocean, returning to rivers to spawn. Because they inhabit entire river ecosystems, they are a valuable indicator species. They require clean, cool water year round and healthy estuary and marine environments. The absence of a thriving run of steelhead where one existed is a sure sign of the decline of that water’s health.

The groups agree that restoring the rivers and streams of Southern California is good for the trout and good for the people of Southern California. The environmental and economic benefits of a restored ecosystem are tremendous. Clean, free-flowing rivers and streams and healthy fisheries will increase recreational opportunities, while commercial and sport fishing revenues could generate billions of dollars. Recovery also means less government regulation and cleaner water supplies for Southern California.

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“The Southern California steelhead holds the genetic key to all steelhead populations on the Pacific Coast,” said Michael Pottorff of San Diego Trout. “Despite its scientific and historic importance, it is the most endangered steelhead population in California.” Dams, diversions, poor water quality and bureaucratic apathy have all combined to drive the fish to the brink of extinction.

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) said in their Steelhead Restoration and Management Plan for California, “Southern steelhead stocks are the most jeopardized of all of California’s steelhead populations...South coast management focus will be on recovering these stocks from impending extinction and this will be the highest priority for DFG steelhead management.” Despite this statement of support, the bulk of $43 million in state salmon and steelhead funds have been directed to Northern California efforts. In addition, the state legislature has directed 90% of another $20 million in federal “Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery” funds to Northern California.

The Southern California Steelhead Recovery Coalition (SCSRC) proposes a ten-point action plan to restore Southern California rivers and streams. “One of our top priorities is to convince the National Marine Fisheries Service to expand Endangered Species Act listing protections to steelhead,” said David Hogan of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Expanded federal protections should include San Mateo Creek and other Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego County streams.”

 
Southern California Steelhead Recovery Coalition

Another top priority is the removal of obsolete dams such as the Matilija on the Ventura River and Rindge Dam on Malibu Creek. “These dams serve no purpose except to block fish from reaching miles of spawning waters and to keep sand from reaching our eroding beaches,” said Jim Edmondson of California Trout. “They are obsolete, filled with sediment and crumbling from neglect; they need to come down; they are simply a public nuisance.”

Other parts of the plan include getting representation on the committees and government agencies that decide how restoration funds are spent and who create the restoration plans. Currently, there are no representatives within the DFG, or on legislative committees specifically dedicated to the health of Southern California steelhead. The coalition will also seek to raise public awareness of the problem and educate the public on solutions such as increasing flows downstream from dams to provide more water for the fish.

The SCSRC is a non-profit coalition that includes representatives from American Whitewater, the Palomar and Buena Vista chapters of the Audubon Society, Biodiversity Law Center, California Trout, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Up Rincon Effluent, Conception Coast Project, Ecology Center of Southern California, Endangered Habitat League, Environmental Defense Center, Friends of the Los Angeles River, Friends of the River, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Friends of the Ventura River, Heal the Bay, Keep the Sespe Wild Committee, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, San Diego Trout, San Gabriel Valley Task Force, Santa Barbara Sea, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Los Angeles, River Touring and San Diego chapters of the Sierra Club, Sierra Pacific Fly Fishers, Surfrider Foundation, Trout Unlimited, and Wilderness Fly Fishers.

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