Thank you for writing about the Eel River and its fall salmon run ("Return of the Salmon?" March 3). There are a few things I'd like to clarify. Instead of being worried that "the big runs will increase pressure to lift fishing restrictions," I see the potential for more sport fishing access and an opportunity to rebuild the fall Chinook salmon population sufficiently to reopen harvest.
Your article focused on problems with toxic algae in the Eel River, but the thick beds and masses of floating non-toxic algae that occur in summer and fall are a sign of acute nutrient pollution that poses an equal or greater risk to Chinook salmon. Although unaware of it, rural residents of the Eel River basin tip the Eel River water-and-nutrient balance toward health or ill health through their actions. While more than a hundred miles of the main Eel and Middle Fork Eel are once again suitable for Chinook spawning, many tributaries of the Eel have been drying up as a result of changing land use.
For the last six years spring flows have been very high and good for salmon, but fall flows for spawning migrations, except in 2010, have been very low. My report recommends increasing the amount of water set aside by PG&E for potential release in the fall, to avoid fish kills and to make sure that adult salmon don't get stuck in the lower river, unable to access the rejuvenated reaches upstream.
The potential for Chinook salmon restoration is a huge incentive for us to work together to fix the Eel River. Getting the river back to swimmable conditions will also have major economic benefits for maintaining and increasing tourism.
Patrick Higgins, McKinleyville