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Trout Unlimited wins Award for California Partnership uniting Landowners to save Coho Salmon

by NOAA Fisheries 4 May 22:46 UTC
Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited, speaks to staff from Trout Unlimited, NOAA Fisheries, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and others during the presentation of an award to Trout Unlimited April 26 © Katja Bresch

U.S. Representative Jared Huffman and NOAA leaders recognize North Coast Coho Project.

A novel Trout Unlimited partnership to help save California's southernmost coho salmon from extinction has won national recognition from NOAA Fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit presented the Partnership in the Spotlight Award to Trout Unlimited's North Coast Coho Project on the banks of a salmon stream just north of San Francisco. "From developing and implementing projects to improve stream complexity to your work removing fish barriers, it is all making a big difference," she told Anna Halligan, director of the project.

"It's also wonderful to see how your work is significantly benefitting local economies," Coit said, citing new jobs in restoration and monitoring.

The award recognizes Trout Unlimited for partnering with timber companies, grape growers, private landowners and state and federal agencies to restore habitat for endangered coho salmon. It's the largest such initiative in California. The project has helped restore coho salmon and steelhead in coastal streams from San Francisco Bay to the Mad River and other tributaries to Humboldt Bay.

"The partnership Trout Unlimited has cultivated to save coho salmon is truly one of a kind and worth shining a light on," said U.S. Representative Jared Huffman, who represents the region and attended the award presentation. "Trout Unlimited is especially deserving of this award, and I know many future groups will look to them as a case study on how to unite folks across all sectors towards a common goal."

Diversions and Drought Hit Coho

Coho salmon once thrived in California's rugged coastal rivers. Combined with Chinook salmon, they supported a commercial ocean salmon fleet of more than 4,000 vessels in the late 1970s. As land use practices, dams, water diversions, and drought degraded their habitat, the species dwindled dramatically, nearing local extinction at the southern edge of its range. The number of fishing vessels landing salmon off the California coast fell to barely 400.

This is the second year that all salmon fishing is closed off of California after historically low numbers of adult Chinook salmon returned to the state's rivers. That is the result of ongoing issues related to drought, climate change, and other factors.

NOAA Fisheries listed Central California Coast coho salmon as threatened in 1996, reclassifying them as endangered in 2005. Beginning in 2008, Trout Unlimited leveraged more than $47 million for about 150 projects concentrated in Mendocino and surrounding counties of California's North Coast. Teams assess watersheds and shape habitat improvements to reduce erosion to rivers and streams. They remove barriers to salmon migration and diversify stream habitat to provide refuge and rearing habitat for juvenile salmon on their way to the ocean.

In 2015, NOAA Fisheries identified Central California Coast coho salmon as a Species in the Spotlight, which merit focused attention to pull them back from the brink of extinction.

"We are proud to be honored for our non-partisan, partner-driven work to recover Coho salmon in California's North Coast region," Halligan said. "Trout Unlimited salutes our key partners, including NOAA Fisheries, private timber companies, Tribal nations, and other conservation groups and resource agencies for their critical contributions to our efforts—we literally couldn't do it without them. On behalf of our native Coho, steelhead, and other species that benefit from our work, and for the people that fish for or otherwise rely on or appreciate these species, we thank NOAA for their steady leadership and support. And we pledge to use the power of our partnerships to do even more of this crucially important work in the future."

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