A decaying fish lies on the bed of a shallow stream.

A Bay Area Salmon Story

January, 2023: This month, I helped survey Redwood Creek for spawning (breeding) salmonids. “Salmonid” refers to any fish species in the taxonomic family Salmonidae, which includes salmon, trout, and a variety of other “salmon-like fish.” Salmonid spawning activity was close to zero during our survey, but we did spot one adult female Chinook salmon and her redd (nest). 

Why is Golden Gate National Recreation Area interested in Chinook salmon? The short answer is, they’re not. Not directly at least. The park actively monitors two species of salmonids: coho salmon and steelhead trout. Coho and steelhead are known to be native to three creeks that the park helps monitor–Redwood Creek, Olema Creek, and Pine Gulch Creek–based on surveys being conducted since 1997. The presence of Chinook salmon in Redwood Creek came as a surprise to park staff in 2022, however, as Chinook salmon typically prefer larger waterways than Redwood Creek. These fish were released from Mokelumne Hatchery in the Central Valley, spent their adult lives in the Pacific Ocean, and eventually made their way up Redwood Creek to spawn after heavy rainfall events in October 2021. As hatchery fish, these Chinook salmon lacked the homing instincts that wild salmon use to return to their natal streams, and therefore tend to be less selective about the streams they spawn in–hence their decision to spawn in Redwood Creek instead of journeying back to their hatchery waters. 

Thankfully, Chinook salmon do not appear to be outcompeting coho salmon in Redwood Creek, based on video monitoring studies by the NPS and Cal Poly Humboldt State University, though further research is needed to better understand the full picture. 

Hope you enjoyed this little story–check out these resources if you want to learn more about salmonids at Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 

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