Coastal Currents: Pat Higgins' Fish Story

Mike Dronkers / Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 @ 11:58 a.m. /


Pat Higgins and crew confirm what we've all been hearing about: there are hella fish in the Eel River. 

Eel River Recovery Project has done a few dives that result in phrases like "the water boiled with fish" and "wall of chinook."

Tourists and biologists alike are gathering at places like the Riverlodge in Fortuna, the bridge in Scotia, South Fork Bridge in Dyerville and the Mad River Bridge in Blue Lake to just gawk at Chinook. 

Capable swimmers (with or without biology experience)  who want to help count fish on Friday 11/9 or Saturday, 11/10 are welcome. More bodies lead to more accurate numbers. Please call Pat Higgins at 223-7200 for more information.

Pat Higgins from ERRP explains on today's Coastal Currents. 


Press Release – Eel River Recovery Project

November 2, 2012 – For Immediate Release
Volunteers Document More Than 10,000 Early-Run Eel River Salmon


Old timers along the banks of the Eel River are calling it the largest run they have ever seen,and the Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP) is helping document another potentially recordbreaking salmon run. The third 2012 ERRP fall Chinook dive census of the lower Eel River,on Saturday October 27, substantiated that more than 5,000 fish were holding in the riverbetween the Van Duzen River and Fernbridge. Earlier reports from ERRP volunteers alsochronicled mass migrations of salmon when the river rose on October 22-23. The combinedinformation suggests that more than 10,000 Chinook salmon have entered the Eel Riversystem so far this fall, and this is only the beginning of the run.
Dive volunteers assemble at River Lodge before getting in the water on October 27.


Over 60 people have volunteered to help conduct three salmon census dives, with strongsupport from the Wiyot and Bear River Tribe staff. The 17 volunteers last Saturday includedexperienced abalone divers and surfers, who could withstand the chilly waters of the EelRiver for several hours at a time. Fisheries biologists from the National Marine FisheriesService and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Arcata offices also volunteered on their daysoff, as they have in the two previous dives. Humboldt State University scientific dive classstudents added their talent and youthful energy. The combination of trained observers andhardy volunteers coalesce into very capable fish-counting dive teams.
The dive census techniques follow standard scientific protocols. Divers form a line whereeach can see each other, and count salmon that pass between them as they move through apool. Some pools are as long as a mile and volunteers must swim in formation for upwardsof an hour.

On October 27, divers split into two teams. One team swam and walked fromRiver Lodge, in Fortuna, to below Fernbridge and a second team went upriver, and dove inthe Weymouth Pool off the Grizzly Bluff Road and at the mouth of the Van Duzen River. Inthe Weymouth Pool the dive teams pushed schools of salmon back until they formed a solidmass of fish then the surface of the water boiled as the salmon stopped their retreat and ranback by the divers. Counts are not precise because of these conditions, but rather an indexof abundance that can be used to measure relative run trends over time. The combined totalof greater than 5,000 Chinook salmon observed was they highest count this year and muchhigher than those in 2010 and 2011.

Adult Chinook salmon and steelhead half pounders swim in the 12th Street Pool by River Lodge.The Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) has joined the ERRP and the Wiyot and BearRiver Tribes as a co-sponsor of the dives. HRC fisheries biologist Nick Simpson was thecaptain of the upper ERRP team on Saturday, and he also lead ERRP volunteers and HRCstaff on another dive upstream of Scotia, on Monday, October 29. They estimated that 2700Chinook salmon were holding in the Holmes Bluff Pool alone.

ERRP volunteers throughout the Eel River watershed have reported observations, includingthe time, date, duration and the number of fish passing, providing evidence that severalthousand fish are on the move. Chinook have passed Alderpoint on the main Eel and are as farupstream as the mouth of Outlet Creek, in Mendocino County. Several hundred fish enteredthe South Fork Eel River on Tuesday, October 23, and volunteers have verified that at least afew have migrated as far as Redway.
Together, the dive counts and migration observations indicate that more than 10,000 Chinooksalmon have entered the Eel River already, with the run expected to continue into earlyJanuary. This would suggest this year’s return will be equal or higher than those from 1955-58 when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the last basin-wide surveys and foundthe population ranging from 14,500 to 38,045, with an average of 24,361 returning Chinooksalmon.
The ERRP operates under the Trees Foundation, and the fall Chinook volunteer dive surveysare being funded by the Rose Foundation and Patagonia. The Humboldt County Fishand Game Advisory Committee is also providing grant funds to report on the migration,distribution and abundance of salmon as they disburse throughout the watershed. If lower EelRiver conditions permit, the last ERRP dive will be conducted on Saturday, November 10.People wishing to share salmon observations or to join in the last dive should contact ERRPVolunteer Coordinator Pat Higgins at 707 223-7200. See www.eelriverrecovery.org for moreinformation and links to video of fish under water.