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The name of the Mokelumne River comes from the Plains Miwok words mokel, meaning fishnet, and –umne, a suffix meaning “people of.” Yet for more than a century, anadromous fish -- those that migrate from the river to the ocean and return home to spawn-- have been blocked by dams from reaching the upper reaches of the river.
Support for returning salmon to the upper Mokelumne has grown over the past two years, thanks in large part to a Foothill Conservancy project. Conservancy Watershed Conservation Associate Reuben Childress coordinates the project with the Upper Mokelumne Salmonid Restoration Team. Team members include state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, business owners, and tribal representatives.
Project presented to scientists and researchers
In early April, Reuben and East Bay Municipal Utility District Supervising Fisheries Biologist Michelle Workman reported on the team’s progress at the Salmonid Restoration Federation’s 35th annual conference in Davis. The gathering of scientists and researchers is the state’s largest salmon restoration conference.
“While it was a little nerve racking to present in such a large hall in front of so many ‘fishy’ people, I think the project was really well received and I received a lot of great feedback afterward. It was also just a really great experience for me,” Reuben said. “I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to work with Michelle Workman from EBMUD, too. She is an incredibly kind and extremely talented biologist.”
Reuben and Michelle gave a 30-minute presentation followed by questions in the large Davis Veterans Memorial Center Theater. The presentation covered the history of fish passage obstructions on the Mokelumne, the potential to restore access to more than 14 miles of prime habitat, and the benefits of a grassroots collaborative process. The presentation also explained the technical proposal for a pilot study that will track the way fish will use the habitat in the newly accessed segment of river, and show the production potential of returning these fish to the waters they historically accessed for breeding.
As currently conceived, the pilot study would move spawning fish upstream around both Pardee and Camanche reservoirs and release them into the upper Mokelumne near Middle Bar. The fish would then be tracked as they move upstream and build their nests, called “redds,” in the gravel. After the redds are located, study participants will construct artificial nests in the gravel adjacent to the natural redds, implant them with additional fertilized eggs (extras from the Camanche Fish Hatchery downstream) and then cap them with nets. These nets would capture the young fish (“alevins”) as they emerge. The alevins would then be raised in the hatchery and later released downstream.
The team hopes the pilot study will demonstrate that upstream spawning could augment existing salmon populations. That, in turn, may lead to providing passage for the fish to naturally migrate in the future.
The next step in the project is to finish securing funding for a spawning habitat assessment on the river. We hope that the assessment can be completed this fall, so that its results can be used to further inform planning for the pilot study.
For more on this project, or to learn more about the history of salmon on the Mokelumne, give Reuben a call at 209-223-3508 or send him an email.