2003: Recommendation to the Scotts Creek Watershed Council Regarding Frediani’s Critique of the 2002 CCFA Petition

by Cate Moore on March 9, 2013

Ed Note: We regret that the Frediani article “Coho Salmon South of San Francisco: Indigenous or Not?” is no longer available.  The hosting website has been acquired by a different concern.

January 31, 2003

Thanks for the copy of the recent, undated critique “Coho Salmon South of San Francisco: Indigenous or Not?” concerning the CCFA petition to change the southern boundary of the Southern Coho ESU. Apparently written by someone unfamiliar with the major body of published scientific information in several applicable disciplines, the critique selects or creates isolated statements in support of the environmental activists’ agenda. Most of the references cited in the critique are personal e-mail and unpublished draft reports making evaluation even more difficult.

Those who worked on the CCFA coho studies respect the traditional scientific ethic and thus, have conducted informed, give-and-take discussions with professional collaborators as well as critics. By contrast, there is no way to hold a meaningful discussion with persons more interested in an agenda than in scientific understanding. Nevertheless, a few comments may be useful:

On p.1,pp.3, line 3 the memo states that the archeological study by Dr. Ken Gobalet was commissioned by Robert Briggs and a group of timberland owners. This is inaccurate. I and other scientists who have been studying anadromous fish for several decades became interested in Gobalet’s ongoing work on the pre-European diet of Native Americans when we began to see broad evidence of the non-native origin of Central Coast coho salmon. We have encouraged Gobalet’s study in many ways but our financial assistance was limited to paying for a few hours of an undergraduate student’s time early in our collaboration to pre-sort some archeological samples so Dr. Gobalet could use his time more effectively.

In commenting on the archeological work of Dr. Ken Gobalet, the only reference cited to his work is an early draft of a working memo, written in November 2000 (not 2002 as stated), early in a study that has since been Gobalet’s full time occupation. This memo was one of a series of personal communications that went through at least 5 iterations over a six month period during the year 2000, was never published and in it’s final version on December 12, 2000, the statement quoted in the subject critique (although probably correct) was deleted. Criticisms of the sample extraction methods used by Dr. Gobalet are totally unwarranted.

Gobalet has since taken a year’s sabbatical and, in collaborated with three other noted scientists including an anthropologist, a zoochronologist and a fisheries biologist, they have produced a monumental study that expands on the early, preliminary work. It is now in preparation for publication by the American Fisheries Society. Prior to the working memo, Gobalet singly and in collaboration with other scientists has published a large body of peer reviewed scientific work on related subjects of which the critic is also apparently unaware,

Importantly, the CCFA Petition is not solely dependent on archeological findings to mke the case that the coho in local streams probably could not comprise a significant genetic linkage in the evolutionary legacy of the species as required by the ESA. These archeological studies merely support a conclusion based on other sources of solid evidence. Scientists since Aristotle realize that it is impossible to prove a negative without infinite data however a preponderance of negative archeological evidence supports other sources of information lending credibility to the thesis.

The critique notes comments on contradictory conclusions from archeological and ethnographic studies of the Central Valley to discredit Goablet’s archeological work. Dr. Peter Moyle and other scientists have voiced this criticism and Dr. Gobalet and his collaborators have seriously evaluated and responded to It. They find that the archeological sampling in the Central Valley studies referenced by Moyle was designed to find large artifacts and the techniques used rejected small items such as fish remains. They also tentatively conclude that the ethnographic record overstates the importance of salmon in the diet of natives in some California locations. The professional process of give and take is continuing among these scientists and it is reflected in the latest Gobalet, et al report.

Although one can find numerous anecdotal stories and unsubstantiated reports, the petitioners (CCFA) found only two scientifically valid reports on salmonid prevalence in this area predating the heavy stocking activity.

The critique mentions one of numerous questionable sources, a fish survey in 1870 by a Captain E. Wakeman from a California DFG report dated 1962, that is highly questionable. Although Captain Wakeman is not identified, he is quoted as reporting that commercial fishermen on Pescadero Creek caught a wagonload a day of “trout and salmon” between October and March and sold them locally for $0.75 per pound. A wagonload a day for that period of time is equivalent to 15,000 to 30,000 spawning adult salmon and adds up to 150,000 to 350,000 pounds of salmon per season, yielding a cash return (@ $0.75 per pound) of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It would seem difficult for Pescedaro Creek to support this population, and particularly since Wakeman is quoted as reporting that the stream habitats were in “wretched condition” due to logging, saw mills and flower mills located on them”. Further, it defies credibility to believe that local people, loggers, farmers, etc. would buy any quantity of salmon at the price of $0.75 per pound when a very good day’s wage at that time was $1.00 per day. It is not likely that a local family would pay three quarters of a workingman’s daily pay for one pound of fish that (if that plentiful) any child could go out and catch in a few minutes.

The critique cites, as evidence of the absence of early hatchery coho planting, an informal, undated memo by Dave Streig listing plantings in local streams from an undergraduate student’s informal review of files at the California DFG. This is only a fragment of the information available on the subject. Perhaps it should be noted that absence of evidence in this case is not evidence of absence.

The author of the critique apparently has many misunderstandings, misconceptions and information gaps regarding the interacting, geomorphologic, climatologic and biologic conditions and problems that probably preclude permanent colonies of coho from Central Coast streams. I will mention a few.

  • The repetitious statement that coho habitat range is contiguous with redwood forests is strange. (I wonder where it came from.) At the very least, this would eliminate coho in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.
  • The statement equating stream habitat character of Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties to those of streams in Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties is strange on other than a very cursory level. These geographies, morphologies and climates differ in too many important ways to list here.
  • The author apparently does not have even a basic understanding of the rigid coho life cycle and restricted survival options that prevents multiple year spawning and/or inter breeding between generations, resulting in a population very vulnerable to loss of a single generation. The petition did not just say that stream conditions in the Santa Cruz Mountains are “harsh”. The point is that conditions frequently combine to prevent spawning or destroy an entire generation of eggs or fry, thus extirpating a generation of fish that then cannot regenerate without extraordinary luck or artificial intervention.
  • The petition makes no statements or assumptions about coho “during eras (thousands of years ago) when the climate was warmer and dryer”. Since the end of the glacier era, 10,000 years ago, the climate has been warming and conditions before that don’t seem to be highly germane.

Conclusion : The critique is obviously the result of a considerable amount of time and effort and the author even cites private comments from some respected scientists. Nevertheless, it is an amateurish, slapdash document designed to serve a political agenda, not to shed scientific light, and should not be taken seriously by those concerned with real historic or ecological values.

Recommendation : In my opinion, it would be counterproductive for the Scotts Creek Watershed Council to confer recognition to the critique or grant it status by publication. Likewise, it would serve no purpose for CCFA to enter an exchange of views with its writer. However, CCFA will continue the ongoing, highly productive dialog with members of the legitimate scientific community.

– Robert O. Briggs

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