Freshwater fish are the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the health of our rivers, lakes, and streams. So how are freshwater fish doing these days? Quite terribly. A new comprehensive study led by the USGS looked at the health of all freshwater fish species in North America and found that nearly 40 percent are in jeopardy. And things are getting worse – the 700 species that are now imperiled are almost double the number of species found to be imperiled (364) in the last major study in 1989. Nineteen fish species in the Great Lakes region are imperiled, including the lake sturgeon. The study results are published in the journal Fisheries and are available online.
According to the study, most of the imperiled fish populations are being harmed by the usual suspects of freshwater threats – including dams and impoundments, pollution, water diversion, and invasive species – now joined by climate change. So we know that the canaries in the coal mine are dying and we know why. The fisheries biologists and other natural scientists have done their job. Now we need to do something about it, and protect and restore our rivers, lakes, and streams.