Saturday, September 23, 2023

Massive Fish Kill in the Klamath River After Flash Floods Inundate Its Waters with Debris

A murky brown riverbank clogged with dead fish [All pictures provided by Stormy Staats/Karuk Tribe Fisheries]

Shocking photographs from Siskiyou County near Happy Camp show thousands of dead fish in the Klamath River after flash floods sent a deluge of debris into the fragile river ecosystem. 

The Klamath River Watershed runs through the burn zone of the McKinney Fire, the 60,000-acre wildfire that has destroyed over 80 homes and caused at least four deaths. 

S. Craig Tucker, Ph. D, a spokesman for the Karuk tribe, told us that on the nights of August 3 and 4, there was a “massive debris slide out of areas impacted by the McKinney Fire” that flowed into the main stem of the Klamath after flash flooding at or near Humbug Creek and McKinney Creeks.

The fish kill lined the bank of Klamath with dead fish

Analysis by the Karuk Seiad Creek water quality station found that the debris flows dissolved oxygen levels dropping them to 0 along 10 to 20 miles of river. This resulted in a mass of fish dying off in this affected stretch of the river and now the dead are washing up downstream from the “kill zone.”

Photographs of the Klamath River show its waters are a murky brown inundated with debris and fish floating belly up along the bank.

This photograph shows the dead fish accruing at a bend in the river

Due to the road closures and many of the affected areas being restricted due to the ongoing wildfire, the severity of the event at this point is unknown. Also unclear is whether this event could affect the chinook salmon fall migration.

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In 2002, the Klamath River experienced another fish kill event where some estimate 70,000 chinook salmon died as a result. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that water diversions caused the river’s temperatures to rise allowing gill rot to affect native fish. This event would galvanize the movement to remove the dams along the Klamath.

The extent of this most recent fish kill remains unknown. Karuk tribal members will be working with the Yurok tribe to access the affected sections of the river and continue assessing the ecological disaster. 

A biologist analyzing the affected watershed
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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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