Friends of the Eel Petition for Protection of Northwestern California Summer Steelhead

Cal DFW’s Shaun Thompson) of a summer steelhead sheltering in a cold pool on the Middle Fork Eel River

Summer steelhead sheltering in a cold pool on the Middle Fork Eel River. [Photo by California Department of FIsh and Wildlife’s Shaun Thompson]

Press release from Friends of the Eel River:

Friends of the Eel River have formally petitioned state and federal fisheries agencies to protect the summer steelhead of Northwestern California rivers under their respective Endangered Species Acts. These unique, and increasingly rare, fish are clearly distinct from more numerous, and less vulnerable, winter-run steelhead.1
“Given their critical conservation status, North Coast summer steelhead should be immediately listed as endangered,” said Friends of the Eel River Conservation Director Scott Greacen.

The differences between summer steelhead and winter-run fish are stark. Summer steelhead generally enter freshwater in spring, spend the dry season in coldwater refugia, then spawn further up their watersheds than any other anadromous (sea-run) fish.

Summer steelhead include the largest adults of any steelhead and the strongest swimmers and highest-leaping fish of any salmonid. Unlike winter steelhead, summer steelhead enter
freshwater as “bright” fish, with undeveloped gonads; they prepare to spawn over the summer while fasting, subsisting on a much higher level of body fat than winter-run steelhead.

Thanks to significant technology-driven advances in genetic science, recently published studies have demonstrated that summer steelhead’s physiological and behavioral adaptations are the result of a specific genetic difference with winter steelhead.2 As well, this research shows that protection schemes which lump summer and winter run steelhead together, as the federal listing for Northern California steelhead now does, lead to the irrevocable loss of summer-run fish.3

Under the federal Endangered Species Act, these studies clearly constitute the “best available science,” which must be taken into account in making decisions about the protection of threatened and endangered species.

“Science now confirms what tradition and experience have always told us: summer steelhead are truly different from their winter run cousins,” said Greacen. “Once we recognize this, it’s clear that the conservation status of summer steelhead is absolutely dire. There are probably fewer than a thousand adults spawning each year across their entire range, from Redwood Creek to the Mattole River, including the largest known populations in the Middle Fork Eel and Van Duzen Rivers. That’s why we’ve asked the federal National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to list summer steelhead as endangered under both the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.”

Friends of the Eel River are particularly concerned by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) current effort to relicense PG&E’s Scott Dam, a century-old, 130’ concrete dam that completely blocks fish passage to hundreds of miles of steelhead spawning habitat in the Upper Mainstem Eel River basin. The National Marine Fisheries Service notes in its 2016 Coastal Multi-Species Recovery Plan that the “Upper Mainstem Eel River steelhead population was once the longest-migrating population in the entire (regional population). Restoring access to historical habitat above Scott Dam is essential to recovering this population.” It also notes that “Scott Dam currently blocks access to 99 percent of the potential habitat available to this steelhead population.”

1 Steelhead are the anadromous form of Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus. The same fish, when they do not run to saltwater but remain in freshwater their entire lives, are known as rainbow trout. However, the “Oncorynchus” genus tells us that biologists now group these fish with other salmon species like O. tshawytscha (Chinook, or king, salmon) and O. kisutch (coho, or silver, salmon).
2 See Prince, Daniel J, Sean M O’Rourke, Tasha Q Thompson, Omar A Ali, Hanna S Lyman, Ismail K Saglam, Thomas J Hotaling, Adrian P Spidle, and Michael R Miller. 2017. “The Evolutionary Basis of Premature Migration in Pacific Salmon Highlights the Utility of Genomics for Informing Conservation.” Science Advances, August (
3 See Thompson, Tasha Q, Renee M Bellinger, Sean M O’Rourke, Daniel J Prince, Alexander E Stevenson, Antonia T Rodrigues, Matthew R Sloat, Camilla F Speller, Dongya Y Yang, Virginia L Butler, Michael A Banks, Michael R Miller. 2018. “Anthropogenic habitat alteration leads to rapid loss of adaptive variation and restoration potential in wild salmon populations.” bioRxiv. (

Additional Resources
An extensive 2017 report for California Trout by Dr Peter Moyle et al on the status of salmonids across California is a key source for the petitons. The full report (CAUTION link is to 8.4 MB .pdf file) is available here:




    • I don’t think the main fork above Scott dam ever had summer steelhead. No deep pools and canyon like the middle fork. It was a fall and winter strain.

      • the stretch below the dam and above the diversion does. when you target squawfish with a barbless spinner, you can fish all year. the name pikeminnow seems dumb when is has no resemblance to a northern pike or pickerel, can grow to 3 feet and looks like a suckerfish.

  • Got to protect the river,not the fish.river first.if river no good you don’t need fish.go after fertilizer sellers and pesticide if that’s pot with small robberies,like Robin Hood.

  • They are not bigger than winter fish but are certainly more athletic. But listing them will do no good as long as nothing is done about squawfish and pot growing.

    • How do you ever expect ppl to take your opinion about the conservation of fisheries seriously when you refer to a species as “squawfish”? Time to step into the 21st century…

      • What are you talking about… pikeminnow and squawfish are interchangeable. Plenty of scientific papers refer to them as Squawfish. Off your high horse.

        • Problem is, squawfish is used interchangeably with multiple species- ever heard of a mountain whitefish? Using a racially charged term to refer to a species one considers of low value is just plain ignorant.
          Furthermore, I’d love to see which published scientific literature from the last 20 years used that term. You do know where and what scientific literature is don’t you?

      • Go back to the big city where you can be politically correct

      • the misadventures of bunjee

        You’re so cute “guest”. Getting all bent up on some comment board over a word. Didn’t your parents ever teach you “sticks and bones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?”. Try practicing that.

    • I agree about the pike minnow but pot growing seems like a cop out. The native species in the river have been declining since I was a kid far longer than pot growing has been massively developing. It’s mismanagement by DFW by not doing what other states have done to maintain their fisheries, stocking watersheds. Personally I think DFW perfers species to be endangered as it gets them more revenue

      • Please quit trying to justify pot growing. It sucks the scant summer flows dry. Fish need water.

        • If you really cared about the state of Jefferson you would realize cannabis growing is our culture. Once you draw a line in the sand over pot growing, the state of Jefferson will never succeed

          • That’s why I’ll never vote for the state of Jefferson, it would take 30 years before the growers realized how bad they’ve trashed the place. And they would probably all be back in California by then.

          • It’s not my culture

          • State of Jefferson is a state of mind, narrow as a chemtrail, and weak as a flat earther’s grasp of physics.
            Cannabis will no more save this region than CDFW will save Salmon and Steelhead; Summer, Winter, Spring, or Fall runs.
            They will faithfully chart the demise, while making politically expedient decisions.
            A facile secessionist movement is no answer for fisheries, for the region, state or country. It’s DOA as shown by the XX smiley face flag flown by the SoJ cheerleaders.
            Dream on, little dreamer!

            • I live in Siskiyou County…and those darn double xxs are everywhere. One of my neighbors flys a California state flag. Makes me smile and wish I had one myself.

      • Mike, the tributaries getting pumped dry for the irrigation of pot is a real thing.

      • Pot growing a cop out? Sure they have been in decline consistently, but that’s because we’ve replaced one method of harming the environment with another, but that doesn’t need to be just ‘how it is’. Very few people doubt that if we put all the pot water and other uses of water back in the river, we’d see great returns on fish. And I don’t mean this harshly, but read up on stocking watersheds, the science shows it is clearly not the answer to the long term success of a species. It replaces well adapted natural fish with dumb fish that are conditioned to eat pellets from a concrete run. They outcompete the native fish for food in the river but far less of them ultimately return to the river because they aren’t well adapted. In addition, they reduce the genetic diversity, because even the best stocking programs have a level of artificial selection in their broodstocks that does not select for the most fit fish. They are a good last resort if the population gets extremely low and one drought year could kill off the remaining fish, or if the population goes to zero and you are trying to reintroduce fish to a river, but otherwise they should not be used. Fisheries management is coming around to this, slowly but surely. Obviously it has been a nice crutch to increase returns in the short term to appeasing recreational fishermen, but they are starting to realize it has long term damaging effects.

    • Or logging, or cattle grazing, or grape growing, or blueberry growing, or lawn growing, or…. why do you discriminate on pot growing?
      Maybe you love band wagons.
      When you can hands down, scientifically prove, which industry has destroyed the salmon then you can tell us.
      Until then get together with the chem trail, government fire laser conspiracy crew and serve some free dinner to people in need

      • Every pot grower on here gets bent out of shape when someone points a finger a them. No one is saying those other things don’t also draw water, but if you take a look at the pie chart of where Eel river water goes, there’s no doubt a majority of it goes to weed. I would guess there’s about 20 grows for every winery. Do all those other things also have a negative effect on the watershed? Of course. But as a society, it makes infinitely more sense to try to curtail the issues which have the most impact, then secondarily deal with the others. Not to mention that much of the regulation equally affects all the use cases you mentioned.

        • the misadventures of bunjee

          MikeyC here’s some hard data on that: As of 2016 there were 4,653 registered wineries statewide, nearly three-fold what existed in 2000.

          Nationwide there were 11,496, a four-fold increase in the same time. In Humboldt, there’s likely 100:1 grows to wineries. You won’t ever find Napa type wineries here simply because the geology and climate isn’t as favorable (microclimates, versus a whole region).

          Statewide, CA wineries as of 2017 show 880,000 acres being used for all aspects of wine production (not all is actually grape producing)

          Sonoma County alone accounted for ~10% of the state’s registrations, encompassing about 60,000 acres of land or roughly 141 acres per operation. 141 acres will grow tens of millions of dollars worth of weed. I don’t know how much $$$ that translates into for grapes as there is a very wide range of prices.

          We can argue that grapes rape the land much more than pot does, but at least we can eat grapes and not get inebriated. And the plants do not need to be replaced, with new topsoil hauled to the mountain tops every year. However an old local rancher recently told me that the numbers are just a means to argue points of view, being that a single 30″ diameter spruce or fir will consume more water daily than 100 plants ever will. In which case, we could argue that nature herself is the single largest user of water and land resources. Perhaps we should get the USDA and DFW up in her business and see how well it turns out.

          • Thank you for the facts, they are interesting and much appreciated. I have no doubt that a spruce (or redwood or whatever) uses more water than a pot plant. But I also know the spruce doesn’t divert water in summer! I am all for keeping the weed plants if we strictly using catchment systems for winter runoff.

  • Hey friends buy the friggin dam already, where where you when it was being sold? Actions speak louder then words, own that shit! Fund raiser? Go fund me? Geterdone!

  • Tear down the dam. If you can take down a statue why not a dam….
    It’s habitat that you stole from animals.
    It’s just a historical errection that should not stand as values have changed.
    Shame on you arcata

  • I am afraid FOER’s estimate of 1000 fish is woefully high, at least for this year. I talked to some people who did the summer steelhead survey on the Mattole this year, and they saw about 4 fish, total.

    If we don’t reduce the other water use issues on the river, the extra 10% of the watershed provided by the dam removal isn’t going to make a difference.

    • the misadventures of bunjee

      I saw a few more than four the few times I swam in it over the summer. But it’s a far cry from when one could nearly stick their hand in the water and catch one, or go swimming without 10 of them brushing up against you.

  • If we had busy little beavers building natural dams along the streams, there’d always be enough water.
    Or we could mimic the beavers and get busy building unnatural ones that look natural, with gates to release water when necessary.
    I can easily imagine tiered dams, from 3’high to 10’high along the river’s course. Nice clean pools for the fish to wait out summer
    Paid fish and game workers that keep track of the parts that need dredging, filtered, aerated, shaded, or tracking.

    • Eels winter flows prevent that.

      • dredge the mouth continually allowing rocks and sediment to be naturally removed from the watershed which is much needed, the only low impact thing that could actually have a effect. But instead let’s just do a tax so we can feel good while DFG does nothing productive except revenue generation.

        • You know the oft repeated statistic on the number of workers per number of retired people and what a problem it is? Well there is the same effect when the number of people supported by government reach a certain level too. Too many relying on government, both as dependents for no work and workers, a tilts the social equation from rewarding innovation and personal actions, which are characteristics of a vigorous population, to the suppression of innovation and guarantees of a living. Complaining replaces action and too many in the populace demand that government supply their wants, shouting down opponents.

        • the misadventures of bunjee

          I’d say dredge it all the way up to South Fork. Eel used to be up to 20 feet deep at Fernbridge at one time in history.

  • Oh yeah, and start fish hatcheries. Pretty simple, other places have done it to restore their fisheries, but then again they weren’t California

  • No water = no fish. Repeat that.

  • Summers enter the main and middle fork around the 1st of April, fact. Summers do eat, hell, I have fed them everything from Western Fence lizards, to smoked oysters out of a can, fact. Summers mill in the pool below Scott dam all summer, and no doubt would make it to Hulls Creek if given the opportunity, fact. Summers in the middle fork below Indian Dick and Rock Cabin Trailhead keg up and wait in the holes for the fall rains to go up Red Chert Creek, fact. Pilfering water out of the mainstem and middle fork to grow dope in the summer decimates not only juvenile steelhead, but upbound steelhead as well,fact. Once you exterminate 3-4 years of successive runs of summer run steelhead, that genera is extinct,period, fact. Pot, the wonder medicine, will be the death knell of one of the most beautiful fish on Earth, fact.

    • summer run steelhead and salmon that hang out too long only live and succeed because of bedrock pools and just like you stated, they wait for the fall rains. their entire life cycle is related to rain. the biggest pilferer on the Eel is the diversion. you will find no fish with an adipose fin in the stretch below the diversion all summer long. blaming cannabis for all the problems in the northcoast is getting old. spend some time studying other river systems of similarity that have no grows or major take. climate change, fact.

      • Their ability to wait for the fall rains is affected by the amount of flow in the river which is affected by growers and other water uses during summer. The river obviously runs colder and healthier based on a number of factors besides rain. So pinning it entirely on climate change, which surely is a factor, does not make any sense.

        And for the record, the diversion outflows mimic the inflows during summer. I am not justifying the dam, but it’s a fact they don’t draw any water during summer. As well’s have proven to lower the water table and rivers, rain catchment during winter is the only growing method that makes sense in the Eel.

        • currently there is no data to support your theory. wells placed within the highwater bank may effect the river, but there is very little data suggesting that it is significant, especially when compared to what the CSDs take and the data generated from that. wells in the hills screened below hundreds of feet tap into groundwater that won’t make it to the river in thousands of years and there is plenty of data supporting that. the rivers is southwest Oregon and the Smith are having the same effects of climate change as pretty much everywhere else in the west. to think our problem is unique is narrow minded. keep in mind that some of these drainages have zero take including illegal grows. the bedrock pools keep all the fish and neotenic salamanders alive in the late months of the dry season. the oceans are changing and along with it everything else it controls, which is the weather.

    • Thank you for some relevant info! Speaking of weed grows….Mendocino County just okayed a 200 acre weed grow in Covelo by ConAgro (a Canadian company). That’s mainstem Eel country. Where is all the water for that massive weed grow coming from? I have not heard details of that water use plan. Anybody know?

  • Wow, I had thought the steelhead were a pretty hardy fish. Thanks for the info!
    While I do beilive that the cannabis industry isn’t entirely to blame, it can not be denied that it also has a significant impact. It s so ironic, the industry has become the very people we came up here to fight against! The eel river screams of heavy nutrient pollution. The summertime flows are extremely diminished, sediment in the river is high. On the flip side, economy and economic survival of people and families are equally important. How do we find a way people and fish can coexist?

  • Not blaming weed for ALL (logging, mining, canneries,grapes,road building,dams,poaching,drought, predation by non-native species, natural barriers such as slides and logjams, accelerated water temps,etc.) but weed WILL AND IS the final shove off of the cliff for anadromous fish in the Eel.Fact.

  • I had a thought too . . .that the three rock and gravel mines on the Van Duzen, from the Carlotta Post Office to 101, operating year round for the past 18 months, coincides with the ‘clear-cut like it’s 1990’ started. To keep the silt from all the logging reaching the ocean?

    • there are 69 active SMARA permits in Humboldt County, not all are currently mining, but none have any plans to mine silt. and operations in the river bed is permitted seasonally during low water for gravel extraction. you may learn something if you flip thru the years over certain areas of the rivers on Google Earth. all of them have gravel extraction going on.

      • I have gone to the Planning Dept. and looked at several of the permits. They were, or used to be, September to the first week in November, with a maximum yardage. 69 makes my heart sink.
        Year round makes my heart sink. The County paying the owners of the rock and gravel mines makes my heart sink. It’s not like our roads are anything to brag about. Well, 36 is always in prime condition -for the trucker’s logging parade.

  • Good work, Scott!

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