Steelhead trout: A restoration story

by Aleks Wydzga

trout pic.jpg

Have you ever peered into a local stream and for a brief moment thought you saw a fish? Then you looked a little longer and indeed, confirmed it was a swimming fish, and pointed it out to others? Why is that discovery a fun moment to share? Could it be because it reminds one that nature is all around us? It may have even been a Steelhead trout, a fish with an intriguing story.

Like most streams on the Central Coast, Arroyo Grande Creek serves as home to wild, native Steelhead trout. While historically these trout used to live in our local creeks in great numbers, today they are threatened with extinction for a multitude of reasons, including habitat barriers, water diversions, development, and pollution.

Yet somehow they stubbornly continue to survive. One of our primary goals at Central Coast Salmon Enhancement is to not only protect and enhance the population of local wild native steelhead trout but also to protect and enhance the watersheds that our native aquatic species depend on. Why are we committed to this work? We understand that walking in, along, or over the creek and spying Steelhead trout can be an awe-inspiring experience, and one that needs to be shared with future generations.

Therefore, CCSE is currently working to remove a barrier on Arroyo Grande creek that essentially acts likes a dam and blocks wild Steelhead trout from migrating to portions of their critical habitat. Similar to its salmon relatives, Steelhead trout begin their lives in freshwater and after a few years migrate to the ocean. After spending some years in saltwater, the Steelhead return to freshwater to spawn. However, unlike salmon, Steelhead trout can continue this cycle and spawn again. It is this special life cycle and their migration throughout the watershed in such close proximity to the places our families and friends live, play, and work that translates to us needing to be stewards of our environment.

Our organization, through grants and individual donations, has raised 90% of the funds required to remove this barrier. Removal is slated for the summers of 2015 and 2016. Once the barrier is removed, it will open over 3 miles of critical Steelhead habitat. In addition to wild, native steelhead trout, numerous other species utilize Arroyo Grande Creek and will benefit from CCSE’s habitat restoration work. These species include tree frogs, red legged frogs, a native fish named dace, and beavers, just to name a few. (That’s right, our local creeks have beavers!). Together we can help our local streams thrive and become places for current and future generations to discover and enjoy nature.