Salmon and Global Warming

From high mountain streams to broad rivers, to estuaries and the ocean, salmon are our "canary in the coalmine," alerting us to the impact of climate change on the health of our entire ecosystem.

Seven Ways Salmon Will Be Impacted by Global Warming

  1. Loss of Snowpack - Loss of snowpack and shrinking glaciers mean reduced stream flows in summer and fall. Not only would it would be difficult for returning salmon to reach spawning grounds and for juvenile fish to reach the ocean, lower stream volumes also mean warmer water.

  2. Warmer Water - Optimum water temperature range for most salmonids is 55-64 degrees Fahrenheit (12.8-17.8 degrees Celsius). Warmer summers are also raising stream temperatures, making salmon more susceptible to predators, parasites and disease. Massive fish kills have occurred at or above 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius).

  3. Forest Fires - Warmer, dryer conditions have resulted in a 400 percent increase in the number of major fires and 600% increase in the average area burned since the 1980s. Intense forest fires can completely burn out root systems, contributing to erosion and siltation of nearby rivers.

  4. More Severe Storms and Floods - Increasingly heavy winter floods wash away salmon eggs, even scouring away the gravel spawning beds. Severe floods can wash toxic materials into rivers.

  5. Ocean Acidification - CO2 is making the oceans more acidic, dissolving the shells of tiny mollusks, an important food source for juvenile North Pacific salmon.

  6. Warmer Oceans - Warmer ocean waters and shifting currents are prompting a northward shift in the range of some salmon and other fish populations, such as barracuda and Pacific cod.

  7. Sea Level Rise - Sea level rise may inundate low-lying estuaries, a critical habitat for salmonids as they make their transition between river and ocean life stages.

Impact on Other Animals:

Where salmon decline, animals that depend on salmon--from microorganisms to bears, eagles, mink, river otter, and orcas--also suffer.

How Do We Protect Salmon from Global Warming?

  • Restore rivers and estuaries by removing unnecessary and harmful barriers and address root causes of land-use problems.

  • Save the best remaining habitat by protecting parks, wilderness and roadless areas.

  • Improve forestry and farming practices to minimize impact on rivers.

  • Improve fisheries management by using real-time monitoring, and maintaining genetic diversity, which helps species adapt to a changing environment.

  • Increase water use efficiency and conservation by households, farms and industry.

  • Anticipate climate change impacts when creating long-term water resource management programs.

  • Address policy barriers to cooperation among the many stakeholders for scarce water resources, such as the "use-it-or-lose-it" provision in Western Water Law.

  • Increase the energy efficiency of homes, offices, motor vehicles and factories; implement stronger state and federal efficiency standards.

  • Developing non-hydro, renewable energy sources can prevent hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 emissions, while creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

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