Hey, now, let’s get happy. Friends of the Los Angeles River just released “State of the River 3: The Long Beach Fish Study.”
As the organization’s founder writes in the introduction: “The first time I came to Willow Street in Long Beach was to announce our first LA River cleanup in the 1980s. We called for 10,000 people to join us in trash collection and only about 10 showed up. “ He goes on to say that most would have seen this as abject failure, but, as an organization that thrived on failure, it was surely a win, instead.
Lewis MacAdams recounts how that failure lead to its first grant, one that chronicled the 200 some odd bird species living in and around the river.
Later, in 2008, came the mid-river fish study, revealing that nature is just damned hard to kill, even with our best efforts. Participants found hundreds and hundreds of non-native fish living in the Glendale Narrows section of the river, by Atwater Village.
Today, you can read about the efforts of more than 130 professional scientists and amateur anglers, all coming together to support both FoLAR and the Aquarium of the Pacific in this latest release. Five fishing events, coordinated by the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains and FoLAR, plied the brackish waters from May, 2014 to August, 2015. The story of what was – and wasn’t – found unfolds herein like a good mystery. Rich field notes catalog water quality (surprisingly good), days and times of the study, numbers of participants and anglers, gear used and fish caught.
And, as with many things, it could be an odd experience. For example, one day, trash collected in seine nets lists:
— condom — surgical glove
— tea kettle — Doritos bags
— ketchup — trash bags
— men’s brown sock
As Robert Blankenship, president of the South Coast Chapter of Trout Unlimited, who lives in the area, writes, “I visit and fish this area regularly. I’ve caught a bunch of carp, with a few big catfish and some smallish largemouth bass thrown in” and goes on to lament that on the very hot survey days the anglers “demonstrated why it’s called fishing, not catching.”
The big prize of the survey was a tiny, native fish that literally swam into the hands of one volunteer. Dabin Lee, a California State University Los Angeles student, caught a Killifish.
Dr. Sabrina Drill, natural resources advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, notes in the book that “For some, the measure of ‘functioning’ ecosystem is whether it supports native biodiversity,” and goes on to write that by that measure the in-stream community is failing. But, given the robustness with which Angelinos now fish and kayak its waters, “the meaning of the suite of fishes in the river now is open to interpretation and depends a bit on your starting point.”
Still Drill regrets the absence of native species, and there is no denying that the king we all wish to return to our area, the endangered Southern California Steelhead, is missing from this and the Glendale Narrows survey.
Although there are several photographs of two steelhead in Ballona Creek in 2008, as Rosi Dagit, RCDSMM senior conservation biologist, writes “Most years, fewer than 10 adult steelhead were seen throughout the whole area, concentrated in just a few rivers and creeks.” That is down from runs of literally thousands of fish in the 1940s, which has been well-documented in the Los Angeles Times.
“We thought for sure there were steelhead trout lurking in the river at Long Beach, waiting for concrete removal so they can make their way back upstream as they did for the last time in 1940, but no such luck,” writes William Preston Bowling, FoLAR’s special projects manager. “The California Killifish was discovered in this study and could be an indicator for water temperatures that a steelhead could survive in.”
To this end, it’s imperative that the billion-dollar re-imagining of the Glendale Narrows area go beyond architecture and new housing. What’s important for the steelhead is also supremely important to us: better water quality, reducing river water temperatures and restoring riparian function, as Dagit notes elsewhere in the text.
So, if you missed volunteering for Willow Street, don’t despair, the work continues, moving to the upper river and a chance to sign up for Wednesday’s field excursion.
See you on the river, Jim Burns