Steelhead Trout are the true test for the environmental health of San Luis Obispo (SLO) County’s watershed. Like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, their demise foreshadows broader wildlife threats. In San Luis Obispo, fish-minded biologists drive the efforts to enhance salmonid populations through the City’s Natural Resource Department (SLO NRD). City Biologist, Freddy Otte, spearheads local municipal monitoring work.
Freddy arrived at Cal Poly with aspirations of fisheries work in the wildlife field. Graduation landed him seven years with the Central Coast Salmon Enhancement project. In 2005, he moved onto SLO NRD. Today, his project list of environmental work remains diverse and seemingly endless – collaring mountain lions, a 1.2 acre wetland meadow and riparian planting grant, the 4th year of the Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program (SWPPP), the Mission Plaza native species planting, and the Steelhead Monitoring Project (SMP), to name a few. “I’d have to take my shoes off to count all of them,” he says humorously. With such a full agenda, what feeds his passion? “Fish like that,” he explained, pointing to a prominent Steelhead Trout portrait and working on SWPPP and the SMP.
“I want the people to understand why we do what we do.” He understands the importance of local citizens knowing just how committed the SLO NRD is to preserving and restoring the community’s shared resources.
The leading cause of water pollution is storm-water runoff. SWPPP is designed to mitigate this effect. Simultaneously, SLO is focused on SMP, a program for preserving our shared environment. The confluence of these two programs, one regulatory and the other preservation based, allows Freddy to sate his passion for saving fish.
SWPPP means less pollution in our creeks and streams, and, thus, the ocean. In turn, Steelhead Trout thrive in a cleaner, healthier home, which is a testament to water quality and quantity. Thriving trout are a natural and visible water quality test, giving evidence of the success of SWPPP and SMP. Hand in hand, these two projects work together.
This year, the SMP is adding an underwater Didson camera in SLO Creek. This camera shoots a sonar beam through turbid water allowing biologists to observe fish movement when eyesight cannot, providing a more accurate count of fish in the redd spawning surveys which began at the end of January. Steelhead tagging is coming as well. Tagging steelhead will allow Freddy to monitor the fish, collecting field data on migration patterns between our waterways and the ocean to see how many fish return to their initial spawning locations in our county.
In his role with SMP, Freddy acts as a mentor in the locally based, Watershed Stewards Program (WSP), a statewide AmeriCorps program giving college graduates the opportunity to be involved in salmonid habitat restoration, environmental conservation projects, and other environmental or fisheries related projects. This partnership allows Freddy to share his experience with the next generation of professional biologists.
Freddy is also the vice president of the Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF), an organization that aids with SMP. SRF’s mission is to promote restoration and stewardship of California’s native salmon, steelhead, and trout populations and their habitat. His involvement with WSP and the SRF gives Freddy a statewide perspective on fisheries work and progress, allowing SLO County’s monitoring program to remain current.
Freddy jokes that his ultimate goal is “to be able to walk across SLO Creek on the backs of steelhead.” Historically, the creek was teeming with steelhead. He is hopeful this year’s heavy rains will increase the number of fish that return to their spawning grounds. His job requires tireless commitment and holistic passion and SLO county is lucky to have Freddy doing it. So, in the interest of remaining “fundamentally fishy,” we remain hopeful with increased water quantity, a new sonar camera, tagging, and Freddy doing his thing, trout and salmon will re-occupy our creeks, and won’t that be a sight to see, one not seen in some time.
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