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Californian Fish Face Crisis

CALIFORNIA, US - New Report Shows California Fish in Crisis Trends indicate 65% of native salmon, steelhead, and trout species may be extinct within 100 years.

CalTrout today released the first-ever comprehensive report chronicling the status of each of California’s native fish species (salmon, steelhead, and trout). SOS: California’s Native Fish Crisis was written and researched by Dr. Peter Moyle, UC Davis professor and renowned expert on California’s water systems and the fish that inhabit them.

The report’s findings indicate that the state’s native salmonids are in unprecedented decline and are teetering towards the brink of extinction – an alarm bell that signals the deteriorating health of the state’s rivers and streams that provide drinking water to millions of Californians.

All indications show that California’s native fish are in crisis:
  • If present trends continue, 65% of native salmon, steelhead, and trout species will be extinct within 100 years.
  • Sixty-five percent of the species headed towards extinction are found only in California.
  • Of the state’s 22 anadromous fish species (which spawn in freshwater and live most of their adult lives in the ocean), 59% are in danger of extinction.
  • Of the state’s nine living native inland fish, 78% are in danger of extinction.

“This report is an important resource for anyone interested in protecting and restoring California’s magnificent native fish,” said CalTrout Executive Director Brian Stranko. “From local watershed groups working in communities, to the highest levels of state and federal governments, SOS: California’s Native Fish in Crisis provides the information, the roadmap, and the guidance for affecting change for California’s fish and the habitat that supports them.”

All of the species studied in the report support, or have previously supported, major recreational and commercial fisheries and provide enormous economic and cultural value to Californians. And as shown in a report released in January 2008 by CalTrout, direct spending by anglers in the state on fishing-related items and activities comes to over $2 billion each year. Ecotourism like fishing is one of California’s largest and fastest-growing industries and it provides critical income to help diversify and stabilize rural economies throughout the state.

SOS: California’s Native Fish Crisis cites a number of key stressors on California’s native fish populations, many of which could be addressed through improved policy planning and better water and land management. Dams, agricultural and grazing practices, development, mining, railroads, logging, some recreational uses, illegal harvesting of native fish, reliance on fish hatcheries, and invasive species have all played a role in driving these species to the brink of extinction.

Global warming has perhaps played the most significant role in the alarming drop in numbers for many of these fish, as salmonids are particularly sensitive to changes in water temperature and rapidly shifting ocean conditions affect those that migrate between rivers and the ocean.

Thirty-two native fish taxa – species, subspecies, Evolutionary Significant Units, and Distinct Population Segments – are evaluated in SOS: California’s Native Fish in Crisis. Each type of fish was evaluated according to the same criteria and given a score that indicates its likelihood of long-term survival under current conditions. A score of “one” indicates the species is “highly vulnerable to extinction in native range in the next 50 years” and a score of “four” or “five” was reserved for species with no extinction risk and expanding populations.

Of the 32 taxa analyzed in the report, one is extinct in California and an additional fourteen are listed as state and/or federally threatened or endangered. Pink and chum salmon, southern steelhead, and coho salmon face the greatest immediate threat of extinction. Other species racing against the clock for survival include both summer and winter runs of the Northern California Coast steelhead; Central Valley, South/Central California Coast and Central Coast steelhead; Little Kern golden, Lahontan cutthroat, and Paiute cutthroat trout; and California Coast, Sacramento winter run, and Central Valley spring run Chinook salmon.

The report finds that identifying new and innovative funding streams for the state Department of Fish and Game (DFG) would allow the department to be a more effective steward of the state’s fishery resources. It also argues vigorously for a revitalized and strengthened DFG that would enable it to fulfill its role as chief guardian of California’s wild and native salmon, steelhead, and trout by partnering with local communities to protect regional fish populations and their habitats. And it calls for immediate action on salmon, steelhead and trout recovery needs, such as addressing known challenges on the Shasta River and Trinity Rivers and continuing efforts to protect ground and surface water resources at the local and state levels.

“The fish don’t lie,” said report author Peter Moyle, PhD. “The story they tell is that California’s environment is unraveling. Their demise is symptomatic of a much larger water crisis that, unless addressed, will severely impact every Californian.”

Ongoing research and restoration efforts have shown that when flows are reinstated, migration barriers removed, and cool, clean, abundant water provided, our native fish show signs of recovery.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.