Thursday, June 22, 2006
In one small Carmel River pool, trout crowd together tightly, prevented from advancing downstream by the river’s constricted flow. Slowly and discreetly, a shiny metal pole dips into their pool, releasing an electrical current that stuns them so they can be carefully lifted from the water. In another, larger pool nearby, a net is slipped beneath the trout and they’re scooped out unstunned. The fish then go into holding buckets that can hold up to 50 fish before they are transferred to a rescue truck with even bigger fresh-water tanks. Later, they are released in sustainably flowing segments of the river, or placed in a rearing facility. Last year, a record amount of almost 24,000 trout were rescued this way by volunteers who dedicated 1,000 hours to the effort.
“Once you do a few, and once you know those fish are out there dying,” said Monterey resident Frank Emerson, “you can’t sit at your desk knowing those fish are dying and not do anything about it.”
Steelhead need this human boost because humans have affected their natural journey downriver to the ocean—and the habitats where they mature in preparation for that journey—with the San Clemente Dam and overdrafting. Now, says Emerson, vineyards divert more water, cause some sediment erosion, and threaten to leach pesticides and fertilizers into the river.
Emerson, a Carmel High School graduate and owner of Prudential Financial in Salinas, has been a volunteer for Carmel River Steelhead Association (CRSA) since 1998. Locating, catching, counting, and releasing juvenile steelhead is one of several tasks CRSA volunteers take on, which also include the restoration of the Carmel River Lagoon and public campaigns for conservation.
“Rivers are forgiving if you help them,” said Emerson. “I believe we can reconcile both preservation of resources and our needs.”