Fishery resources of the Mattole Basin include fall-run Chinook salmon, coho salmon, winter-run steelhead trout, and summer -run steelhead trout. Other fish present in the Mattole Basin include sticklebacks, lampreys, and sculpins. Two notable fish species that have apparently been extirpated in the Mattole Basin are spring-run Chinook salmon (CDFG 1972) and green sturgeon (Moyle et al. 1989).
insert table: Fish species in the Mattole Basin
Special Status Species
Ten plant and animal species in the Mattole Basin have been found to have declining populations across their ranges and thus warrant special concern. Species with declining populations are eligible to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) for special attention. Detailed explanations of federal and state listings criteria are in the CDFG Appendix F.
insert table: Special status species of the Mattole Basin
We have little specific information about the levels of abundance of mid-nineteenth century fishery stocks. However, based upon turn-of-the-century cannery records from the river systems in northwestern North America, including the neighboring Eel River, we can infer a great deal about the historic plenitude of Chinook, coho, and steelhead in the Mattole Basin. Old-timers and descendants of those early settlers, like Cecil Etter, born at the beginning of the twentieth century in a house that still stands near the confluence of Honeydew Creek and the Mattole River, reported an ever-ready supply of salmon and steelhead before the floods of 1955 and 1964. Those fish were easily caught for the table or smokehouse with a pitchfork or gaff hook in “any creek of the Mattole.” With a twinkle in his eye, he added, “before the war (WWII) no-one knew what a fishin’ pole was, or what one was good for in regards to salmon or steelhead,” (C. Etter, personal communication).
More recent accounts from Mattole anglers like Lynn Mantooth, “Hippie Bob,” and the “Nevada Boys,” fishing in the 1945 – 1970 period, describe a fabled sport fishery where in good stream conditions a group of four or five anglers could expect to hook and release over a hundred fish, mostly steelhead, in a day of fishing (J. Clary, personal communication). Salmon poaching beneath the Petrolia Bridge, and elsewhere, was a viable means of making a “little Christmas money” by selling fresh and smoked salmon as late as the 1960s, (C. Wright, personal communication).
By the late 1970s, those fish populations had collapsed to levels that alerted locals to their depressed condition, and initiated the formation of the Mattole Salmon Group. In 1981, the Mattole Salmon Group with the cooperation of landowners, and the support of the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), and others like the Mattole Restoration Council, began stock restoration activities that included public education, artificial propagation, and habitat improvements. Their efforts have been important in preserving the Mattole’s fragile fishery stocks in the face of very challenging conditions.
Fishing Interests, Constituents
Historically, during the winter months sport fishing for salmon and steelhead has drawn anglers from throughout California and other states to the Mattole River, which has been an important contributor to both sport and commercial marine fisheries. Due to declining populations, Chinook and coho salmon, and steelhead are currently listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The threatened status now restricts river sport fishing on Mattole Basin stocks. The Mattole Estuary, from the river mouth to 200 yards upstream, is closed to fishing all year. The winter salmon and steelhead fishery of the Mattole River is managed as a catch and release fishery from January 1 to March 31. (Always consult CDFG fishing regulations for dates and other information.)
Fish Restoration Programs
Local watershed groups, the BLM, various state agencies such as CDFG, and local landowners have worked on numerous restoration projects throughout the Mattole Basin. The Mattole Restoration Council (MRC) and the Mattole Salmon Group (MSG) have obtained contracts for work on such diverse areas of restoration as stream surveys, road assessment, revegetation, instream habitat improvement, fish rearing, public education, and monitoring.