Toppling trout barriers: Local groups clear the way for fish return
By Cat Neushul
If you clear it, they will come. That is what representatives from local environmental groups anticipate will happen with steelhead trout in Carpinteria area creeks. Most of the manmade barriers that prohibited steelhead trout from swimming upstream have been removed, clearing the way for the fish to make a reappearance in local creeks.
Mauricio Gomez, director of the South Coast Habitat Restoration and chairman of the Carpinteria Creek Watershed Coalition, said, “The coalition has almost finished removing all the barriers in the watershed. We are in the final stretch.” SCHR and the CCWC have worked together to restore areas along Carpinteria and Gobernador creeks.
Since 2001, the coalition, a group of local landowners, community groups, resource agencies and individuals, has raised more than $4 million in state and federal grant money to restore steelhead habitats. With this money, five restoration projects have been checked off the list, with a sixth one in the planning stages.
One of the projects was The Bliss Fish Passage Restoration Project, which cost $900,000 to complete. Gomez said local contractors removed a concrete driveway, installed a bridge, and created a native habitat with boulders and plants on the Bliss property. He called this type of project a win/win situation. The landowner removed a potential hazard—the driveway spanning the creek bed—and the natural environment was restored. He said that by using area contractors, there is a local economic benefit as well. “Why not have some of the dollars (from grant funding) come into the community and stay here?”
Driveways, such as the one on the Bliss property, created a barrier for steelhead swimming upstream. The fish couldn’t jump over the concrete driveway to reach the other side of the creek. In addition, the steep banks of the creek near the driveway, and the lack of natural obstacles, such as boulders, were problematic. Gomez said that fish swimming upstream need areas to rest along the way. Obstacles, such as boulders, provide natural resting spots.
Carpinteria Creek was once an ideal habitat for steelhead. As recently as the 1960s, the trout were found in abundance in local creeks. While there isn’t historical data identifying the number of steelhead once found in the creeks, Gomez said that personal accounts and photographs tell the story. He said he had seen a photo of a man proudly holding a string of five steelhead he had caught in Carpinteria Creek in one afternoon. Gomez said that as recently as 2008 steelhead trout had been seen in Carpinteria Creek, but the fish had been unable to make their way upstream.