Central Valley
Central Valley
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature

Mokelumne River Steelhead Run Increases In Recent Years

by Dan Bacher
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and Save the Mokelumne River Association played a key role in securing more water for the river from the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), increasing the allotment from only 13,000 acre feet in wet years to 85,000 acre feet.

The Mokelumne River below Camanche Dam. Photo by Dan Bacher.
Mokelumne River Steelhead Run Increases In Recent Years

by Dan Bacher

The numbers of steelhead returning to the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery in recent years don’t compare to those at Nimbus, Feather and Coleman fish hatcheries, but they are a vast improvement over many years when no adult steelhead returned to the facility.

No steelhead came back to the hatchery, located on the river right below Camanche Dam, for 10 years from 1976 through 1986. Again in 1998-1999, no adult steelhead returned to the facility.

That doesn’t mean that there weren’t any rainbows in the river during these years. The river hosted a popular resident trout fishery for fly, bait and lure anglers, but relatively few of the 100,000 steelhead yearlings released every year went to saltwater and returned.

The river, before the listing of the Central Valley steelhead under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), was managed as a catchable trout fishery, rather than as a wild steelhead or trout river. The DFG regularly stocked the river with catchable size steelhead in the 10 to 15 inch range, hatched from steelhead eggs obtained from the Mokelumne and Nimbus Fish hatcheries.

In contrast, the river is now managed as a steelhead fishery. The steelhead runs in recent years have ranged from 189 fish in 2005-2006 to 412, a record number, in 2006-2007. The hatchery received 344 fish in 2007-2008 and 309 in 2008-2009, according to Will Smith, hatchery manager.

“This year we’ve taken 59 fish so far and we expect to see about 200 total by the end of the run,” said Smith. “They’re beautiful fish averaging 4 pounds and going up to 11 pounds.”

Smith attributes the increase in steelhead numbers in recent years to a number of changes in hatchery management that were made possible by the $12.5 million hatchery renovation that was completed in 2002.

First, the hatchery has increased its output of fish from 100,000 yearlings to 250,000 yearlings annually. If you put more fish in system, more fish are likely to return.

Second, the hatchery has changed the timing of its releases from November and December to February and March, which appears to improve the amount of fish returning.

Third, the hatchery has been releasing the fish at different times and locations based on the water conditions in the river. Release locations have included the river below the hatchery, Lake Lodi, New Hope Landing and San Pablo Bay.

“If there is a lot of water from storms, we release the fish higher in the system,” said Smith. “The high, turbid flows protect the fish from being eaten by predators and there is less chance of them being entrained in the Delta pumps.”

Fourth, the hatchery has experimented with releasing steelhead at different sizes, ranging from 4.3 per pound up to 3.5 pounds each, to see which ensure the best survival.

The hatchery in September 2008 released 17,600 pounds of steelhead averaging l.85 pounds each, a total of 9,522 fish, in San Pablo Bay.

Then in January of 2009, they planted 378 pounds of steelhead averaging 3.5 pounds each, a total of 108 fish, in the river below the hatchery.

The hatchery followed this plant on in February 2009 with 1600 pounds of steelhead averaging 4.30 per pound, a total of 6,880 fish, in the lower Mokelumne at New Hope Landing. That month they also planted 21,450 pounds averaging 4.33 per pound, a total of 92,400 fish, in the same area.

Finally, the facility released at Lake Lodi 300 pounds of steelhead averaging 1 pound each in May 2009.

Other factors in the upswing in the steelhead run include the longer time the hatchery staff spends sorting the eggs and the leaving of the ladder open for a longer period of time than before.

Besides hatchery improvements, the construction of new fish passage facilities on the new Woodbridge Dam in the summer of 2006 and the completion of the FERC relicensing process for Camanche Dam in 1999 that provides for increased river flows are responsible for the upswing in the steelhead run.

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and Save the Mokelumne River Association played a key role in securing more water for the river from the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), increasing the allotment from only 13,000 acre feet in wet years to 85,000 acre feet.

Finally, the “Speece Cone” operated by EBUD at Lake Camanche, a device that distributes oxygen to the lower lake waters at the dam, has also boosted the river’s steelhead and resident rainbow fishery. The device, constructed to improve the quality of water released into the fish hatchery and river in order to stop the fish kills that periodically plagued the river, usually operates from August until mid-to-late October.

While steelhead numbers have increased, the lower Mokelumne continues to offer a quality fishery for resident rainbows. “These trout are just happy living in the river,” quipped Smith, noting that the tail water fishery below Camanche Dam offers good habitat, abundant food and cold water temperatures that keep the fish in the river rather than going to sea.

In addition, trout from heavily-planted Lake Camanche spill over into the river to take up residence, adding to the wild rainbows and steelhead found in the river.

Fly fishermen, bait fishermen and lure tossers find top-notch trout action during the open season from January 1 through March 31 and the Fourth Saturday in May through October 15. As on other Central Valley steelhead rivers, anglers can only keep one hatchery steelhead and must purchase a steelhead card to fish the river.

The majority of fish caught on the Mokelumne are beautifully colored wild trout that anglers must release while shore angling or fishing from a drift boat or canoe. However, the presence of increasing numbers of wild and hatchery steelhead improves the angler's chance of hooking a trophy fish.

The Mokelumne salmon run, as it has on most Central Valley rivers, has ranged from great to very poor over the past decade. A record number of salmon, 16,128, returned to the Mokelumne in 2005. The total run declined to only 235 fish in 2008/2009, the result of increased water exports from the California Delta to subsidized agribusiness and southern California, low flows below Woodbridge Dam, poor ocean conditions and other factors.

Fortunately the run rebounded considerably this fall. The hatchery received 334 males, 391 females and 823 jacks and jills, for a total of 1548 salmon. The hatchery has taken a total of 2,447,102 eggs to date, well below the goal of their goal of 5.8 million eggs, but a contrast with the 262,000 eggs taken last year.

Because of the pressure from Water 4 Fish, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and EBMUD, the hatchery this year was allowed to take 366,435 eggs from stray Mokelumne River fish that showed up at Nimbus Fishery in the fall of 2009. Last year the hatchery, under state and federal constraints not to take eggs from “out of basin facilities,” was unable to take any eggs from Nimbus and other hatcheries.

For more information, call the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery, (209) 759-3383.

Groups Sue EBMUD Over Proposed Expansion of Pardee Reservoir

The Foothill Conservancy, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, and Friends of the River filed suit on November 19, 2009 in Amador County Superior Court to protect the Mokelumne River from the proposed expansion of Pardee Reservoir. The expansion is included in the East Bay Municipal Utility District's 2040 water plan, which was approved by the EBMUD Board of Directors October 13.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn the environmental impact report on which the water plan and reservoir expansion are based. The EIR included review of one expansion option that would flood the entire Middle Bar reach of the Mokelumne River and up to a mile of the Electra Run above Highway 49.

The EBMUD board retained four alternatives for a new Pardee Dam, three of which would destroy the Middle Bar reach and historic 1912 Middle Bar Bridge. The threatened area is valued for its whitewater boating, fishing, scenery, wildlife and cultural and historic resources. The new dam also threatens crashing fisheries downstream in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

"The Mokelumne River is not the property of East Bay MUD, and they are not above the law," Foothill Conservancy Executive Director Chris Wright said in announcing the litigation. "Their program EIR doesn't comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, but EBMUD approved it anyway-just like they kept the reservoir expansion in their plan over the objections of so many people, organizations, agencies, elected officials and local governments.

"We won't let this big, powerful utility destroy more of the Mokelumne. We will do what it takes to protect this special river for communities, people, fish, and wildlife," Wright said.

The lawsuit notes that foothill residents "rely on the Mokelumne River and its watershed as a place of residence, business, recreation and spiritual renewal." The suit alleges that East Bay MUD violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to adequately analyze and mitigate the impacts on Amador and Calaveras counties from the new Pardee Dam.

The case also alleges that EBMUD inadequately responded to concerns raised by foothill communities, public interest groups, and government agencies dedicated to protecting foothill resources. EBMUD ignored the moving testimony of foothill citizens and public officials who spoke at EBMUD's public hearings in Sutter Creek, San Andreas and Oakland.

The case concludes that, "EBMUD's approval is uninformed and not supported by the type of analysis and findings necessary under CEQA before EBMUD may shift the harm of its future water supply program onto a crashing Delta ecosystem and onto Sierra foothill counties that have neither electoral nor legislative remedies at their disposal to ensure that the resources enjoyed by their local communities are protected." The suit asks the court to set aside EBMUD's approval of the 2040 water plan.

"EBMUD is a municipal vampire that has drained the Mokelumne to the point it's on life support," said CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings, adding, "Having spurned reasonable alternatives that would have assured its customers of a reliable water supply, it now demands more from a river that has no 'more' to give, if its going to survive. Enough is enough!"

"We're grateful to the Conservancy, FOR and CSPA for pursuing this litigation," said John Tinkl Co-Chair of the Community Action Project (CAP), Calaveras County. "The proposed option for a new Pardee Dam on the Mokelumne River would be a disaster for the region's recreation, economy and scenic beauty. The building of a new dam flies in the face of other options that could meet potential water needs but not harm this beautiful Sierra region."

"This is only the second lawsuit Foothill Conservancy has filed in its 20-year history," Wright said. "But this is such an important issue, and people care so much about this river, we knew we had to do it. We hope that people who care about the Mokelumne will donate to help cover our legal expenses"

To contribute to the Foothill Conservancy's Mokelumne River Legal Defense Fund, go online to or send a check to Foothill Conservancy, P.O. Box 1255, Pine Grove, CA 95665.

For more information, contact Chris Wright of the Foothill Conservancy at 209-295-4900 or chris [at]
Add Your Comments
We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


$210.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network