The Pescadero Dilemma

Early February 2014: annual steelhead kill, Pescadero Creek lagoon

By Tim Frahm

Consider the Pescadero Dilemma.

Threatened steelhead die every year, in significant numbers, in the Pescadero Creek lagoon on the Central Coast of California. Everyone knows why and how to fix the problem. The angling community is ready and waiting to help.

But for nearly two decades, the problem has not gotten fixed.

This regrettable phenomenon just happened again. A few days ago, more than 300 steelhead and countless numbers of other native fish such as sculpins and sticklebacks perished when a preventable set of conditions once again came together in Pescadero lagoon.

And local anglers are angry. Again.

Some of us are lucky enough to have a fishery which has become such a part of us that we call it, poetically, our “home water.” For me, it’s Pescadero Creek.

Pescadero is not big and it’s certainly not famous (thank goodness), but it’s a spot in which I’ve invested a big part of my life (and an even bigger percentage of my fishing life). I can only fish the tidal waters of the lagoon, and only during the short winter steelhead season.

I can spend entire seasons waiting for those magic moments where the unpredictable native steelhead not only move into the lagoon, but are active and willing to grab. In the meantime, I’m out there in a sometimes bruising landscape, watching and working.

This place has been described as too cold, too windy, too raw. It can also be described as too beautiful to miss. And I feel very protective of it.

It was fishermen who first called attention to the annual steelhead die-off in Pescadero lagoon. We are still calling. Year after year, we count dead fish. Year after year, we swallow our anger as the degradation of this special resource happens before our eyes. It’s predictable. It’s fixable.

Yet we haven’t been successful in achieving a solution in nearly 20 years. There are too many agencies, too much hand wringing. We don’t own the land or the fish so can’t act unilaterally.

Anger doesn’t catch fish and it doesn’t solve problems. Staying on the water is how we hook steelhead. Being doggedly persistent is how we overcome intractable bureaucracy and procedural hurdles.

I know this: the same tenacity it takes to keep working and working until you actually bring a steelhead to hand is the same tenacity it takes to fix the Pescadero Dilemma — everywhere that steelhead and salmon are at risk.

Tim Frahm is Central Coast Steelhead Coordinator for Trout Unlimited.

By Sam Davidson. Sam Davidson hired on at Trout Unlimited in 2003, and has served as communications director for TU’s Western Water Project, field director for TU’s public…