From TU’s man in Portland, Alan Moore: Recent postings to these pages showing fat n’ not-so-happy silvers sucking poppers off the surface of Oregon coastal waters warmed us to the core here at Conservation Clearinghouse PDX.
The rap on Oregon coast coho that they’re crappy fly biters has always been a bit of an albatross for those of us doing habitat and other fish work on the coast and trying to get anglers and other conservation-minded souls excited about it.
Regardless of how one feels about the Oregon coastal coho’s ESA-listed status, the fact that they are listed means much of the conservation funding, attention and opportunity focuses on them first. Not the way it should be, necessarily – we’re working hard to build an integrated, multi-species approach across all of our work – but that’s just the way it is right now.
The ESA tag does help when it comes to getting agencies, funders and restoration hacks like us excited, but let’s face it: when we’re planning a fishing day it’s pretty meaningless. As a species we’re much more likely to invest precious conservation time and resources into fish that will reciprocate by ripping a couple hundred feet of line off our reels. For showing that symbiosis in action, in real time, and for bringing sexy back to silver, Jay, we thank you. The wild coho thank you.
Someday. Maybe. OK probbly not.
For real and lasting coastal coldwater fish conservation to have a chance, we’ll need to recognize over time that it takes a village of fish to make these ecosystems go, just as it takes a broad and diverse range of native plants, bugs and other animals too. Including people. All play a vital role; all have their quirks; all are unique in some way. The closer we look, in fact, it’s often those unique quirks are the keys its critical role in the continuum.
One of the Oregon coast coho’s quirks is its need for slow-water habitats full of cover and bugs to forage and rear in its time as a juvenile in fresh water. Low-velocity water means less energy chasing and fleeing other stuff, and results in bigger smolts. Or “smolt” if you’re proper. Bigger smolts survive to adulthood at higher rates, and make for bigger adults when they do. Of all those coastal wetlands, marshes, side channels and perennial puddles off the mainstem of rivers that we so conveniently drained, filled and blocked as we developed floodplain areas, most were probably coho nurseries chock full of future pink popper-eaters, all or part of the year. Restoring passage, habitat integrity and hydrologic function for adults like these to reach spawning areas is critical for all salmonids, but making sure the progeny have ways to survive to smolthood after they emerge from the gravel is just as critical, and widely overlooked.
This comes as no surprise. Making wetlands, transitional marshes and turbid slackwaters is not sexy, especially competing with restored brawling mainstem reaches and placid babbling tributaries. And 3-inch fish make for pretty pathetic grip-n-grin poses compared to 18-pounders. Despite these handicaps, TU and our many wonderful partners in our coastal work in recent years continue to make sure that these restoring these rearing areas remains a part of our habitat program.
In part 2, we’ll show a couple of these unique projects, including one where the only heavy equipment we’re using to re-route streams is the two front teeth at the business end of large rodents’ mouths, and a way coming up for anyone interested to get involved this month.