But a report on the declining numbers makes a bigger point: fresh, clean water is in short supply for fish, and it’s needed by humans, too.
At first glance, the two-year study by California Trout is all about fish. Of 31 trout, salmon and steelhead species, 65 percent are headed toward extinction this century.
Like redwoods, deserts and seashores, these native fish are icons of the state and deserve protection. This heritage must be protected, the organization rightly argues in the 350-page report researched by a team that included Dr. Peter Moyle, a UC Davis professor of fish biology.
A combination of factors – farming, timber practices, development and harsh weather brought on by global warming – is the culprit. Water is siphoned off, dirtied or blocked behind dams. The flows that are left are sluggish and warm, unsuitable for wild fish.
So far, the state’s official answer is a feeble one: a Fish and Game department saddled with increasing duties and a declining budget. As one example, there are 100 fewer game wardens today compared with 2000. These outdoor cops do more than check fishing licenses. They spot illegal water diversions and activities that damage streambeds needed for fish spawning.
With a state budget deficit predicted at $28 billion over the next 18 months, it may be foolish to wish for miracles. But an agreement last week holds out hope for removing four dams and restoring fish-friendly flows on the Klamath River. Also, the San Joaquin River is in line for major restoration. The report suggests pushing these plans further via a slice of the sales tax or user fees if the political will is there.
There are convincing reasons to safeguard the state’s native fish from extinction. But maybe the best reason of all is that by saving these ancient species, California is also saving itself.