Archive for category Fisheries

Vintage Views: California

It isn’t often that a portrait featuring people, rather than wildlife or scenery, becomes so emblematic of a place that it catches my eye. But such is the case in this 1938 cover of a fishmonger placing dungeness crabs into a steaming cauldron at Fisherman’s Wharf along the northern waterfront of San Francisco. The monger’s aplomb and pride, the fastidious order of his stall, and the pleasure evident in the couple who have taken pause amidst the noontime bustle of tailored men and tempted gulls crowding the market to snap a photo – this cinematic moment is nostalgia’s real McCoy.

This market moment marks another in the growing number of vintage images of California accumulated in association with the Vintage Views: Mount Diablo project I’ve undertaken with my wife (see Sarah Anne Photography). One by one, I have been carefully digitizing these assorted California ephemera to immortalize them on a more permanent medium.

Now, through the (bio)accumulation Etsy storefront, you can own your own Fisherman’s Wharf cover art, as well as other vintage views of California, as 12X18 inch wall art mounted on either Styrene suitable for matting and framing or infused directly into a sheet of aluminum metal to capture a sense of modern minimalism.


Metal Print
Metal prints are presented as a stand-alone image infused (printed) directly into a sheet of aluminum, providing a luminescent quality. The finished metal print includes a float-mount hanger affixed to the back of the image, floating the print ½ inch off the wall.
Price: $100

Styrene Mount Print
Styrene prints are mounted on white 2mm warp-resistant Styrene known for durability and strength. Styrene prints are ready to be matted and framed, or can be displayed on an easel.
Price: $45

To see all of the vintage wall art available to date, visit:



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Book Review: Moving Water

Moving Water: A Fly Fisher’s Guide to Currents, by Jason Randall, Stackpole Books (, 2012, 209 pages, $ 24.95.


If you’ve spent any time on the water, you understand just how seemingly complex and unpredictable moving water can be. Whether you’ve floated the American River in a guided raft, angled the Sacramento River from a drift boat, or simply ambled along a surging river after a torrential storm, the turbulent water appears chaotic and feral. But like anything else on Earth, water is bound by the same laws of physics. Despite the froth and churn of a roiling river, one should be able to disassemble and predict how moving water might interact in any given system.

Enter angler Jason Randall, whose Moving Water: A Fly Fisher’s Guide to Currents tackles the conundrum of currents from the angler’s angle. Even though Moving Water‘s intended audience is clearly fishermen, Randall’s narrative appeals equally to a broader audience of anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of how rills and rivers work. Whether you’re an angler or outdoorsman or fisheries biologist or naturalist, understanding the nuances and mechanics of moving water is a currency in and of itself. The effects of current influence not only fish (and how to fish for them), but also the vertical and horizontal distribution of invertebrates and plants; the geomorphology of a river’s channel, riparian zone, and floodplain; and the distribution and foraging strategies of other river-dwelling wildlife species.

Beginning with a review of lotic ecosystems (those of the river and stream), Randall first outlines the basics of water and flow, describing how moving water shapes not only a river, but the surrounding landscape. Key in this discussion are the mechanics and interplay of velocity, centrifugal force, water oscillations, and gravity, which together are responsible for the character and meander of a channel in a lotic system. Next Randall slips into a chapter on laminar flow, the effect of friction that results in a layering effect in water velocity in a column of flowing water. With these concepts in place, Randall puts the pieces together in the three-dimensional river, plunging below the waterline to examine vertical stratification and variation in current velocities caused by such obstructions as bank and bottom, rocks and logs. Next is a discussion of turbulence, the wildcard that introduces randomness and chaos to moving water, but also facilitates gas exchange and mixing of organic and inorganic materials. Lastly, Randall devotes a chapter each to the benthic community and fish behavior, tying everything together like a fisherman’s knot.

Although the entire text is framed by how moving water effects the drag on a line or fly, and how to mend or cast to alleviate such drag, discerning non-anglers should find it easy enough to apply these principles of moving waters more broadly to their own disciplines and interests. Randall writes with the authority and expertise of an angler, but does so with patience for the uninitiated. In Moving Waters, Randall brings the river, and the water that runs through it, to life.

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Book Review: Color Catalogue for Field Biologists

Herpeton10054_titelColor Catalogue for Field Biologists, by Gunther Köhler, Herpeton (, 2012, 49 pages, € 24.80 (~$32.00).

For years, when it came to describing a species in the field, the gold standard in color standards was Frank B. Smithe’s “Naturalist’s Color Guide”. The Smithe Guide provided a palette of 182 color swatches against which to compare and discern the colors in a hummingbird’s ruby gorget feather or the cobalt venter scales of a “blue belly” western fence lizard. Much like the Munsell color system – familiar to many through the Munsell soil color charts used in the field by soil scientists for, among other things, wetland delineations – the Smith Guide was the go-to-guide for wildlife biologists and taxonomists who needed to record accurate and reproducible species descriptions. When the Smith Guide went out of print in 1981, it left a gap in the suite of references available to scientists.

With the publication of Gunther Köhler’s Color Catalogue for Field Biologists, that gap is once again filled. Picking up where the Smithe Guide left off, the ‘Köhler Catalogue’ builds off the 182 original swatches with an additional 118 swatches that span the spectrum from Kingfisher Rufous and Pistachio to Light Russet Vinaceous and Cinnamon Drab. The Köhler Catalogue boasts many features, amongst them an English/Spanish translation, an introductory glossary of terms (e.g. stipples vs dots), photographic figures illustrating key terms, and a primer on preparing color descriptions in life. The heavy card stock, heavy duty front and back covers, and spiral-bound spine show that the Köhler Catalogue is meant to get dirty.

Although the guide is geared toward herpetologists (the terms and photographs, for example, illustrate the art of describing amphibians and reptiles), even Köhler admits its utility for ichthyologists, ornithologists, entomologists, botanists, and – although he neglects to mention them – mammalogists. But no matter the taxon, nowadays when you find yourself at a loss for words to describe a new species or a new specimen – be it bird or bee – you can turn to the Köhler Catalogue.

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Presumed Extinct: Fish Out of Water


Presumed Extinct: Clear Lake splittail, thicktail chub

As with the presumed extinct ivory-billed woodpecker reported in Arkansas in 2004, there is always the chance that a long-lost plant or animal will be rediscovered, thanks to persistent searching and luck. That’s true even in a busy metropolitan area like the San Francisco Bay Area. In May 2005, botanist Michael Park stumbled upon a population of Mount Diablo buckwheat (Eriogonum truncatum) on the slopes of Mount Diablo. The buckwheat was a  species long thought extinct, last seen in 1936 by UC Berkeley botany graduate student (and later Save Mount Diablo cofounder) Mary Bowerman. 

Spurred by the rediscovery of the buckwheat, it bears asking today which plants and animals endemic to – but presumed extinct in – the San Francisco Bay Area scientists continue to search for in the hope they may still be hanging on by a thread, waiting to be found and protected.

Clear Lake splittail (Pogonichthys ciscoides)

thicktail chub (Gila crassicauda)

Thicktail chub (Gila crassicauda), top, and Clear Lake splittail (Pogonichthys ciscoides), foreground. Illustration by Devin Cecil-Wishing.

With major fisheries teetering on the brink of collapse, it’s unlikely that many people have noticed the plight of two Bay Area endemic minnows that haven’t touched a creel in 30 years or more. The Clear Lake splittail (Pogonichthys ciscoides), the lake-bound cousin of the Sacramento splittail (P. macrolepidotus), is said to have schooled in great numbers in Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in California. In April and May, the eight-inch-long splittail would venture into upstream tributaries to spawn. Three weeks later, the young would return to the lake to feed on zooplankton and the native Clear Lake gnat in silvery schools that led early settlers to call them “silversides.” In the early 1940s, Clear Lake splittail populations plummeted, but it wasn’t until 1973 that the fish was belatedly recognized as a species. At about that time splittail vanished from the lake, replaced by non-native bluegill and, ironically, the inland silverside (Menidia beryllina). The latter was introduced in 1967 by the state to control vast clouds of annoying but harmless Clear Lake gnats, and it likely outcompeted Clear Lake splittail for shallow shoreline habitat. Other factors that may have tipped the species toward extinction were the channelization and the diversion of Clear Lake’s tributaries, where the splittail spawned.

Although its bones dominate Native American middens along the Sacramento River, Putah Creek, and the Pajaro-Salinas drainage, the thicktail chub (Gila crassicauda) is even less well known. This four-inch-long chub was also found in Clear Lake, the Delta, the Napa River, Alameda Creek, and several other Bay tributaries. Up until the late 19th century, thicktail chub weren’t uncommon in San Francisco fish markets, and their remains have been recovered from 19th-century Chinese privies in the city’s Mission District. But as early as 1884 their populations were reportedly waning. In 1957, the last known specimen was caught in the Sacramento River near Rio Vista. Throughout the species’ range, stream diversions and modifications, the loss of tule beds and shallow lowland lakes, and the introduction of largemouth bass and other nonnative predators likely drove the thicktail chub to extinction.

Since both the San Francisco estuary and Clear Lake are regularly sampled, UC Davis fisheries biologist Peter Moyle says the likelihood of finding either species is close to zero. But Robert Leidy, an ecologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, remains optimistic about the thicktail chub. “It could possibly show up in any part of its historical habitat,” says Leidy. “It could be upper Coyote Creek, it could be the Pajaro drainage, it could be in North Bay marshes or the Petaluma River.”

Field Guide to the Lost Species of the Bay Area

SPECIES: Clear Lake splittail (Pogonichthys ciscoides)



RANGE: known only from Clear Lake in Lake County

HABITAT: Clear Lake and its tributary waters, plus an outlying record from Cache Creek (downstream of Clear Lake)

FIELD NOTES: a lake-bound cousin of the Sacramento splittail (P. macrolepidotus), Clear Lake’s shoreline splittail wasn’t officially described until 1973, approximately the time it went extinct; aside from geographic isolation, the differences between the species are morphological; compared to the Sacramento splittail, the Clear Lake splittail has more gill rakers, more lateral line scales, smaller fins, a terminal mouth with absent or reduced barbels, and a relatively symmetrical tail fin


Inland Fishes of California, by Peter B. Moyle

Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of California, March 13, 1996, by Samuel M. McGinnis


SPECIES: thicktail chub (Gila crassicauda)


FIRST/LAST RECORDED: present in Native American middens/1957

RANGE: reported specifically in Sacramento River, Putah Creek, Pajaro-Salinas drainage, Clear Lake, San Francisco Bay, Coyote Creek, Central Valley lowlands, and Bay tributary streams

HABITAT: lowland lakes, sloughs, slow-moving river stretches, and surface waters of the San Francisco Bay

FIELD NOTES: thicktail chub remains are reportedly common in Native American middens along the Sacramento River, and have been recovered from 19th-century Chinese privies in San Francisco’s Mission District; in the 19th century the fish was commonly sold in San Francisco fish markets and was served in Sacramento saloons; compared to other chub, the thicktail chub is a heavy-bodied fish with a small, cone-shaped head, greenish brown to purplish black back, and yellowish sides and belly


Inland Fishes of California, by Peter B. Moyle

Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of California, March 13, 1996, by Samuel M. McGinnis

The account excerpted above was originally featured in the October/December 2007 issue of Bay Nature magazine.

Illustrations by Devin Cecil-Wishing.

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The Natural History of California

CDFG Journal

In a bid to go green, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW; formerly, the California Department of Fish and Game) is digitizing their 99-year-old quarterly scientific journal, California Fish and Game. In addition to making all issues post-December 2012 available online, they’re also dusting off the stack of journals in the archives. In the coming months, CDFW will be working toward digitizing back-issues dating back to 1914, when the journal was first published.

Back when the journal debuted, California was unquestionably a different place. Among the journal’s opening pages were these missives from the Board of Fish and Game Commissioners:

“The wild game belongs to the people in their sovereign capacity and as such should be enjoyed by the people and cared for and preserved for their benefit. It must not be considered as the property of a class and no class should be permitted to monopolize it… The right of any generation to careless indifference or wanton destruction can not be admitted. Each generation is the guardian of the existing resources of the world; it comes into a great inheritance, but only as a trustee; and there is no recovery or resurrection of an extinct species.”

– Ernest Schaeffle

“So often we lock the door after the horse is stolen. Let it not be so with the game birds and wild creatures of California.”

– Frank M. Rutherford

“Preserved game and fish, like preserved forests or preserved water powers, are of no practical public good. Preserved fish and game die; so do preserved trees; preserved water-powers run to waste. Conserved – that is, used and protected – fish and game, forests, water-powers and all other natural resources are, of course, of practical benefit to the public. And therefore, fish and game conservation – not preservation – commissions are of practical benefit to the public… Our game, however, can not be conserved, or even preserved, if the cover in which and the food on which it lives be not conserved. Our fish can not be conserved, or even preserved, if the waters in which they live be not kept at least free from pollution. If our wild places be permitted to be fire ravaged and destroyed, if our streams and bays be made the dumping grounds for noxious materials, then there will be no use for game and fish conserving laws, no need for a fish and game conservation commission – there will be no fish and game to be conserved.”

– George C. Pardee

During the journal’s first year alone (Volume 1 spanned 1914 through 1915), Joseph Grinnell, Director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, raised the hue and cry concerning the “ravages of the house cat” on native bird populations and the decline of the wood duck; the price of a dozen quail and the bounty on mountain lion “scalps, or skin with scalp attached” were equivalent – $20.00, or $465 in today’s prices; Mr. Edward A. Salisbury was touring the state of California showing moving pictures featuring the wildlife of the west, including the life history of the steelhead trout, treeing and roping wildcats and mountain lions, and hunting geese for the San Francisco market; a game warden’s salary ranged from $720 to $1,500 ($16,759 to $34,915 in today’s prices) a year; and the non-native opossum was confirmed to have been introduced to California from Tennessee by a San Jose jeweler in 1910.

Curiously, the journal’s trademark green cover – a triptych featuring a trout, mule deer, and quail – didn’t make its appearance until Volume 1, Number 2, and has changed very little over the years. Looking backwards, that triptych is perhaps the only constant California has seen in the last century.

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