The Current Magazine Winter 2016/17 - Page 7


bring back

the Eel


But, the glory days quickly came to an end. The list of human activities that altered the Eel and devastated the anadramous fish populations reads like a recipe for destroying a river and its fish: overfishing during the peak years of cannery operations from the 1880s to the 1920s; massive logging, especially in the boom years after World War II, which set the stage for widespread erosion that filled the river with tons of sediment during the epic floods of 1955 and 1964; water diversions for farming and ranching, and more recently for rapidly expanding marijuana cultivation; the introduction of invasive species such as the Sacramento pike minnow, which feeds on juvenile salmon and steelhead; the wholesale transformation of the Eel River delta and estuary into dairy and ranch lands; and, the building of dams that have altered flows and blocked access to spawning and rearing habitat in the upper watershed. It is no surprise that by the 1980s all runs of salmon and steelhead in the Eel were listed as threatened.