Friday March 3, 2023

Sierra Club Magazine

Researchers have come to dire conclusions about California’s native fish: Almost half the salmonids are likely to be extinct in the next 50 years, including over half of anadromous species—fish that migrate up freshwater rivers from the ocean to spawn. This is according to the State of the Salmonids II report, which reviewed the status of California’s 32 salmon, trout, and steelhead fish species. 

One fish in particular, though, is declining more rapidly: The Northern California summer steelhead trout. In barely a decade, the time since the first SOS report was released, the species had escalated from a high to critical level of concern and its population numbers had plummeted to less than 1,000 adults. While the fish are genetically poised to adapt to warming environments, they could cease to exist by 2050 without intervention and habitat restoration on the Eel River. 

In 2018, Friends of the Eel River, a nonprofit in Eureka, filed an official petition to list the summer-run steelhead trout under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). According to the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, the CESA process takes a minimum of two years, but there is no legal timeframe by which the entire process must be completed. Recent listings have taken around four years. While the Northern California Summer Steelhead trout were permanently listed in June 2021, conservation experts worry that with added pressures from climate change, endangered species like the Northern California summer steelhead don’t have years to wait for regulation. Now, advocates have taken a crisis management approach to the CESA, putting resources into species that show the most promise in surviving the future.

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