Swimming Upstream: Freshwater Fish in a Warming World

  • Doug Inkley, Ph.D.
  • Sep 04, 2013

For generations, Americans have taken their children and grandchildren to their local fishing hole, lake or stream for some low-cost, outdoor family fun. But in recent decades, warming temperatures have begun to threaten our freshwater fish and the thousands of outdoor recreation jobs that depend on them.

Whether fly fishing for wild trout in the legendary waters of Yellowstone National Park or ice fishing on Michigan’s famed Black Lake, fishing traditions hold a special place for Americans of all ages. Generations have enjoyed our nation’s clean waters in pursuit of the fish that give life to rivers, streams, and lakes across the country. Today, angling is big business, generating $26 billion annually in expenditures by some 27 million adults.

Changing climate poses new risks for our treasured freshwater fish resources. Warming waters mean lost habitat for cold-water species, the likely encroachment of species typically found in warmer areas, and exacerbation of existing stressors such as habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and disease. More extreme weather events—especially longer and more intense droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and floods  mean increased likelihood of fish mortality. Shorter winters with less snow and ice cover mean shifts in stream flow and water availability through the spring and summer months, as well as lost opportunities for ice fishing.

We need to act swiftly to protect our fishing heritage. We must cut the carbon pollution that currently is on track to cause significant warming by mid-century. At the same time, we must take steps to safeguard fish and their habitats from the climate changes that we can no longer avoid. This requires redoubling our efforts to restore and expand critical habitat, while carefully considering climate impacts in all our conservation activities. Finally, we must manage our water resources in a way that ensures that both people and fish have the clean, cool, and abundant water they need to survive.

Swimming Upstream: Freshwater Fish in a Warming World

Urgent action is needed to protect freshwater fish and America's waters.


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