SACRAMENTO — The California Department of Fish and Game recommended Friday that coho salmon north of San Francisco Bay be considered for the state’s endangered species list as a result of its “dramatic and significant decline.”
If the Fish and Game Commission agrees at a meeting Saturday, it will trigger a yearlong study of the coho’s population drop.
“In the 1940s and 1950s, we were seeing 500,000 native coho returning to California. Today we’re seeing 5,000,” said Sierra Club lobbyist Alex Rate, who praised the recommendation.
The department estimates that by 1993 the number of naturally spawned salmon returning to California waters had dropped to 1 percent of its mid-century population.
If the commission adds the fish to the endangered list next year, it means the species’ well-being will be considered whenever the state reviews proposals for water diversions, timber harvests, gravel mining or any other land or water use that could potentially affect the salmon, said Larry Week, chief of the department’s Native Anadromous Fish and Watershed Branch.
The listing also could prompt more scientific studies, as well as habitat protection and restoration projects, Week said.
Coho salmon south of the bay have been listed by the state as endangered since the end of 1995. The federal government has listed the fish as endangered in the Central Valley since 1996, and in Northern California since 1997.
Naturalists had hoped to see the population rebound after the federal listing, but that hasn’t happened. The Sierra Club’s Rate blamed a lack of state enforcement, something he hopes might be corrected with a state endangered species designation.
Listing of the northern coho was sought in July by 10 state and national environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, allied as the Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Coalition. The department took four months to review the coalition’s petition and its own departmental data before making its recommendation to the commission Friday.
The coalition warned in its petition that the California coho faces extinction because of the overall fragmentation of and environmental damage to its breeding grounds in cold gravel-bottomed streams, the same conclusion reached by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
In addition to the southern coho, the state since 1989 has listed chinook or king salmon as endangered during its winter run on the Sacramento River. In 1999, the state listed those salmon as threatened during the spring run as well.