By Rosi Dagit
She was lying on her back on the bottom of a pool, pushed by the flow against a rock. Bruised, scales falling off, scrapes all over her body, she was barely breathing. Gently holding her face into the flow, she gasped for air and hung limply in my hands. I could feel her muscles twitch and contract, but she could not swim at all. When I let her go, she sank to the bottom on her back and rolled with the flow on her side, up against my feet, unable to orient herself.
At 23 inches, she was a full-grown anadromous steelhead that had fought her way upstream against the current in search of a place to spawn. The creek was wondrous after all the winter storms, with steady flows cascading over rocks, providing a background music calling her upstream to find a good place to lay her eggs.
For several minutes we stood and discussed what to do. She was clearly not going to recover and survive, but she was not quite dead yet. It was just heartbreaking to think of losing this fish, one of only four anadromous adults known to have returned to the creeks so far this year in all of Southern California.
What went wrong? How did she get so banged up? Was the flow too strong? Was she too old and tired, having waited too many years for the rains to come?
She died in my hands. I brought her battered body back to teach us and help us learn to tell her story. Her scales will tell us her age. Her DNA will give us insight into her ancestry. She was not one of our tagged fish, but from somewhere else. Only 18 eggs, an empty stomach. The promise of the future for southern steelhead took a big loss today.
Rosi Dagit is a Senior Conservation Biologist for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Editor’s Note: Dagit and the RCDSMM have permits to monitor and handle these endangered fish. Only permitted biologists are allowed to handle them. There is a substantial fine per fish (around $25,000) for harassment or taking one from the water, if not permitted.
7 thoughts on “Endangered So. Cal. Steelhead dies before it can reproduce”
Was this part of a sanctioned or official study with the State or Feds? I assumed so because the tests imply having access to some very sophisticated equipment.
These fish surveys are being done by the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM), and they partner with a number of government agencies, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, California State Parks, just to name a few. And just to mention, the RCDSMM do have their own sophisticated equipment to accomplish projects like these.
Your fish had probably already spawned, hopefully successfully. Steelhead will generally have a few eggs left over after spawning. They generally carry around 3,000 eggs..
Did the DNA test ever come back?
This from the biologist who works on the project: we are still waiting for all our DNA results (from 2008!) and hope to have them by May, so stand by for updates. the one from Malibu was most definitely a steelhead, even without DNA!
What did the results look like @jimburns ? Could you identify where the steelhead came from?
I’d refer you to biologist Rosi Dagit, Connor, who ran the study for Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains.