Restoring life to Strawberry
Four hundred transplated native fish enhance comeback of the stream
By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
Move-in day for the fish was July 6, when a campus team captured 400 swimmers from two streams across the East Bay hills and released them into Strawberry Creek.
Nearly half of the new transfers are prickly sculpin - the first of their species to return to Strawberry Creek. Three-spined sticklebacks, California roach and Sacramento suckers make up the remainder. With the arrival of sculpin, the creek now hosts more kinds of fish than anytime this century.
The restocking operation, the fourth in a little more than a decade, is part of an innovative effort - developed by campus scientists and coordinated by campus's Office of Environment, Health and Safety - to effect a comeback of Strawberry Creek.
"The fish restoration program serves as a rare example of species reintroduction in a previously highly degraded habitat," says Karl Hans, associate director of air and water programs for EH&S.
"This is especially important in California, where an estimated 62 percent of native freshwater fish are extinct, endangered or declining, and pressures for land use grow every day."
He reports that the fish "are adapting well to their new home. Am I happy about it? Yes I am. This is an example of what we're trying to do to restore the stream to health."
Says Integrative Biology Research Associate Tom Dudley, one of a working group of biologists, geologists and environmental planners who are involved in the creek's comeback: "Everybody talks about restoring native species to areas where they have been lost, but yet very infrequently has it actually been carried out.... We have shown that a stream which was historically badly degraded and polluted could support native fish again."
Before modern development, the campus area was an open wood and grassland that was home to grizzly bear and elk, as well as Huchiun-Ohlone people who fished the waters of Strawberry Creek with nets. Archeological digs of the refuse heaps they left behind, and historic studies of Bay Area creeks, indicate that Strawberry likely harbored steelhead salmon, as well as at least 13 other native fish species.
Degredation of the creek began soon after the arrival of Spanish explorers in 1772. It accelerated with the Gold Rush, the establishment of the campus, and local urban development.
Water from the hills was diverted to serve as a domestic water supply. Creek banks were hardened with concrete and rock. Bank erosion, water diversion, stream alterations and pollution eventually wiped out the fish. A little more than a decade ago, the only survivors were an occasional goldfish left behind by a departing student.
Campus scientists in the late 1980s developed the Strawberry Creek Management Plan, a comprehensive study of the creek's water quality, hydrology, pollutant sources, flora, fauna and history, and of long-range strategies for water-quality improvement, storm-water management, erosion control and habitat restoration.
To help execute the fish restoration component of the plan, Hans' EH&S unit monitors Strawberry Creek's water quality on a weekly basis; it also keeps a watchful eye out for pollution runoff, water main breaks, sewage spills and predatory or disease-carrying exotic species that might impact the native fish and aquatic insects.
"I hope to prevent any discharge that will kill them," said Hans, "and to continue to enhance the ecosystem to stabilize the population."
On a recent excursion to check on the creek, he spotted a lively school of fish - tiny fry to easier-to-spot yearlings - from a bank near the west edge of campus.
"There's some nice fat ones," said Hans. "Things are looking good here."
Good places to spot Strawberry Creek fish
Look for sunlit pools, bends in the creek, and overhangs that make the fish feel protected.
"Suckers are fun to watch," says Karl Hans of EH&S. "In spring, as part of their breeding coloration, they develop racing stripes down their sides." Sticklebacks hang out near the ripples and "have very fascinating behavior," including a red throat at breeding time. "The males fertilize the eggs, and then guard them fiercely." Prickly sculpin are challenging to spot, as they are active at night.
Here are a few favorite observation spots:
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