Global Warming Threatens to Destroy Native California Fish

Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Peter Moyle (photo: courtesy of Peter Moyle)

Is it a bad sign when your state is considering plans to store cold water behind dams so that global warming doesn’t kill 82% of the native fish?

A study by researchers at the University of California, Davis predicted that warmer water from climate change—over the course of 100 years—would have a devastating effect on native fish, including Delta smelt, Central Valley Chinook salmon and Kern River rainbow trout, if current trends continue. But only 19% of non-native fish would be similarly threatened.  

The peer-reviewed study, which considered the fate of California’s 121 native fish species and 50 non-native species, was published last month in the online journal PLOS ONE.

“If present trends continue, much of the unique California fish fauna will disappear and be replaced by alien fishes, such as carp, largemouth bass, fathead minnows and green sunfish,” said Peter Moyle, a professor of fish biology at UC Davis and one of the researchers.

Climate change does not seem to hold much in the way of “good news, bad news” for native fish. “No native fishes are likely to benefit from climate change,” according to the study. Scientists were not surprised. They already knew native fish were susceptible to warmer water and that non-native fish were more adaptable.

Moyle told the Sacramento Bee that some species might benefit from storing colder water in reservoirs behind dams and maybe salmon might be given more access to colder areas above dams. But some species, too far away from colder sources, are doomed. “The prognosis for Delta smelt, frankly, is just not very good,” Moyle said.

Three of the fish listed by researchers among the Top 10 most vulnerable species are already considered threatened or endangered. They are listed below with asterisks:

  • Klamath Mountains Province summer steelhead
  • McCloud River redband trout
  • Unarmored threespine stickleback
  • Shay Creek stickleback
  • Delta smelt*
  • Long Valley speckled dace
  • Central Valley late fall Chinook salmon
  • Kern River rainbow trout*
  • Shoshone pupfish
  • Razorback sucker*

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Climate Change Study: 82 Percent of Calif. Native Fish Species Risk Extinction (by Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee)

Climate Change Threatens Extinction for 82 Percent of California Native Fish (University of California, Davis)

California Native Fish Could Disappear with Climate Change (by Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times)

Climate Change Vulnerability of Native and Alien Freshwater Fishes of California: A Systematic Assessment Approach (by Peter B. Moyle, Joseph D. Kiernan, Patrick K. Crain and Rebecca M. Quiñones, University of California, Davis)

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