Fisheries biologist Mariska Obedzinski has been appointed as a California Sea Grant Extension Specialist, joining seven specialists who conduct research and outreach initiatives to improve resource management on the California coast.
“We’re extremely proud to have Mariska joining our team of Extension Specialists,” said California Sea Grant director Jim Eckman. “Her expertise with salmon and stream ecosystems is invaluable, and very unique for our program. Her appointment is good news for Sea Grant, the state, and I am equally certain for the fish and their habitat.”
Based in Sonoma County, Obedzinski joined California Sea Grant in 2004 as a project manager where she has led a monitoring program for coho and steelhead salmon in the Russian River.
Coho salmon in the Russian River watershed are listed as endangered under the California and Federal Endangered Species Acts, and have been the subject of a captive broodstock and restoration program managed by public agencies, the UC Cooperative Extension, and California Sea Grant Extension.
Obedzinski and her team walk or snorkel nearly 200 miles of stream for surveys each year. California’s historic drought stretched into its fourth year in 2015, drying streams and stranding juvenile salmon in shrinking pools. The Sea Grant monitoring team provided real-time data on fish distribution and stream condition to state agencies, enabling the successful relocation of thousands of stranded salmon. Obedzinski’s team assisted directly in rescue efforts on nine streams.
Contributions like these have helped endangered coho in the Russian River rebound from just 2 adults observed returning to spawn in 2001 to more than 500 in 2013. This April, California Sea Grant received an additional contract from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that will provide up to $2.8M to continue monitoring through 2021.
For Obedzinski, the long days in the field are a labor of love. “I grew up on a coho salmon stream, and since I was three years old I have been going out in my backyard to look for the return of the coho every year,” said Obedzinski. “It’s one of the most exciting things you can experience as a kid and, you know, throughout your life.”
Obedzinski cautions that survival isn’t a sure thing for the salmon recovered so far, as juveniles are still threatened by low water levels each summer due to drought and water diversions.
To help improve their odds, Obedzinski is a founding member of the Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership, formed in 2009 to improve streamflow and water supply reliability in five key Russian River tributaries. Drawing on data and her network with local landowners from the monitoring program, Obedzinski has helped identify, prioritize and evaluate residential water conservation projects that deliver the greatest benefit to salmon. In 2015, these projects helped return 0.1 cubic feet per second to Green Valley and Dutch Bill creeks, the equivalent of three times the average daily flow in June.
Extension Specialist Paul Olin, Obedzinski’s former supervisor turned colleague, praises Obedzinski’s talent for managing professional relationships to meet the demands of a program that has doubled in size.
“Mariska has very high standards and sets the bar high, and she is astute in hiring people who strive to meet it,” said Olin. “She has created a team of eight biologists, GIS and database specialists who are well trained, knowledgeable, dependable, and most importantly, who all work well together.”