Following drought conditions in Lake County, it became necessary this week to rescue hundreds of imperiled native fish from the water.
When it was reported on Thursday that there was Clear Lake hitch in an isolated pool in Adobe Creek near Soda Bay in Lakeport, Lake County Water Resources staff and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, working with Robinson Rancheria and Habematolel Pomo tribal members, jumped into action to save the day.
The hitch, a large minnow found only in Clear Lake and its tributaries, has long been regarded as a culturally significant fish by the Pomo tribes, who considered it to be a staple source of nutrition.
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However, in recent decades, the number of people who do so has decreased significantly.
As a result of the California Endangered Species Act, the hitch has been listed as a threatened species since 2014.
In December 2020, a federal endangered species listing for the hitch was denied; however, the hitch is now the subject of a lawsuit filed in August by the Center for Biological Diversity, which submitted both state and federal endangered species listing petitions for the hitch in an effort to save the species.
Streams can dry up more quickly than usual at this time of year, according to Lake County Water Resources, which notes that low water levels, warm weather, and groundwater use are all contributing factors.
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That’s a problem for hitches and other fish that are migrating upstream to spawn in the spring.
In some cases, this results in isolated, non-connected pools or runs in the streams surrounding Clear Lake. “Any fish caught in these isolated pools will be unable to access the Lake, and they may die if the pool dries out later in the spring or summer,” Lake County Water Resources stated on its Facebook page.
According to Lake County Water Resources, a total of 240 hitchhikers were rescued on Friday.
The successful rescue of the fish, according to the agency, was due to a quick and coordinated effort between its staff, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and tribal partners.
With the help of backpack electro shockers — which stun fish without harming them — buckets, and nets, the rescue team was able to move the hitch one by one.
In Lakeport, they transported the fish to a site near the Konocti Vista Casino and Resort Marina, where the fish were released back into Clear Lake under aerated coolers.
Water Resources stated that no fish were killed during the rescue and that all reports on the hitch that was released were positive.
Members of the public who witness stranded fish in isolated pools or disconnected creeks are asked to contact Water Resources so that the fish can be rescued.
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This is because only permitted fisheries professionals from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife are permitted to conduct and supervise hitch rescues at this time, according to the officials in charge. Aside from this, any other type of hitch handling in streams is prohibited.
Lake County News columnist Angela DePalma-Dow, who works for the Department of Water Resources, said they are encouraging the reporting of strandings in the hopes of saving more fish. DePalma-Dow also writes the twice-monthly “Lady of the Lake” column.
She added that they also hope to discourage illegal dumping in streams and creeks in general. “There’s a lot of trash out there,” says the team.
In the event that you come across any stranded fish in a creek, call Water Resources at 707-263-2344 or send them a message on Facebook, and they will investigate to determine whether rescue is necessary.