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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation Lhvmsr Habitat Assessment: Establishing Baseline Data for Spawning Runs of Surf Smelt


The status of surf smelt (Hypomesus pretiosus) populations have historically been overlooked by the Western scientific community, despite fervent commercial, tribal, and recreational supporters. Recent population declines within multiple forage fish species and smelt research based in Puget Sound have finally galvanized a trickle of interest around the species, in addition to research into what might be driving declines. The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation (TDN) of California’s North Coast has long understood the significance of surf smelt, called lhvmsr, utilizing it for both its subsistence and cultural value. Only a small number of Tribal families continue the traditional practice of fishing in the lower Pacific Northwest, and native knowledge of this species is integrated in a complex understanding of natural systems. However, only in the last few decades has the traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of indigenous people been elevated as hard data in scientific circles. In 2017, TDN partnered in a groundbreaking TEK study in which almost 90% of tribal interviewees ranked the current quantity of surf smelt as worse or significantly worse than when they were children. These results complement spotty commercial and recreational landings data estimates that may suggest catches have decreased. Until now, there has never been an assessment conducted in the Lower Pacific Northwest or California on surf smelt habitat by a federal or state agency, tribe, or other entity. It is vital that possible environmental and anthropogenic impacts to surf smelt populations on the North Coast be characterized, and baseline data established. The following report not only visualizes and assesses six years of spatial surf smelt habitat data collected by TDN, but also evaluates a range of other data sources in order to compensate for the current “data gap” that exists for both this species and the greater North Coast region. This includes available habitat, erosion, visitation, construction, and more. Each avenue of investigation and its methods will be discussed by section. Hopefully these analyses will not only shed light onto the oft-neglected field of surf smelt study, but can also inform tribal and local management practices, and provide a basis for future study.

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