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Salmon Make Comeback in Northern California

Coho and Chinook salmon populations are struggling in California, but thanks to habitat restoration efforts, they are starting to make a comeback. Part of the problem for these salmon is a lack of healthy winter habitat: they thrive in cold, clear, water, and they also need areas of calm water to rest when the rivers run high.

In 2009, the NOAA Restoration Center awarded the Yurok Tribe $547,000 in Recovery Act funds to improve habitat in tributaries to the Lower Klamath River near the Oregon border. Early monitoring results have already shown promising signs—fish have moved into this newly-created habitat, and they are growing bigger and faster than in headwater streams, which lack slow-moving winter habitat.

Restoration of Salmon Habitat

With the Recovery Act funding, the Tribe was able to:

  • Plant and restore 200 acres of riparian buffers on Terwer and McGarvey Creeks
  • Install engineered log jams and 200 willow baffles (rows of brush and rocks on the creek banks to stabilize the bank and prevent erosion)
  • Create two off-channel ponds on lower Terwer Creek

Soon after the off-channel ponds were completed, they quickly provided crucial winter habitat for Klamath River coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. The ponds act as a slow water refuge for the fish. This means the fish don’t waste energy battling the current during winter floods, and they can instead concentrate on eating and growing.

This type of habitat restoration is vital to increasing these populations. Studies have shown that the bigger fish are, the more likely they are to survive the marine environment,” says Bob Pagliuco, habitat restoration specialist for the NOAA Restoration Center. “Salmon grow in freshwater streams like these, then swim to the ocean to spend most of their lives. They’ll return to the creek someday to spawn—if they can survive the trip. We’re basically growing the next generation of fish.”

Measuring Success of Salmon Habitat Restoration

The Tribe tagged fish in the ponds with Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags—the same kind of tags pet owners use to track their animals if they get lost. Using those tags, they’re able to see where the fish are coming from and how quickly they are growing. We can then compare this data to fish that are growing in headwater streams. With this information, they’ve found that there are fish coming from streams more than 120 miles away to enjoy this prime habitat. And the fish that do stay in the new ponds have been found to grow up to six times larger than fish in headwater streams, preparing for their long trip to the ocean and back.


One of the Terwer Creek ponds before and after construction
One of the Terwer Creek ponds during and after construction. Photo credit: Rocco Fiori.
Coho juveniles captured in the Terwer ponds

Coho juveniles captured in the Terwer ponds.
Photo credit: Scott Silloway.