SciSun: Black Fry Day   Leave a comment

Unless you’re an ichthyologist (people who study fish), or a pescatarian (people who eat fish), most of us never, really, think much about these finned fellows; they’re just under the water, an environment (and world) most of us know little about. Unless it’s on the menu or represented as some sort of fearsome ‘monster’ on television or in movies, fish usually cross our thoughts about as much as they cross a road (actually, in Asia the Walking Catfish [Clarias batrachus] does briefly come out of the water to cross roads. Which will give you something to think about). But placing the ‘monster’ label aside (humans often identify anything we don’t understand as a monster), fish have much more to fear from humans and our human world, than we normally have to fear from them. Unless you’re swimming among a group of shark, barracuda, or piranha. Or choke on a fish bone during dinner.

Baby fish are called fry. (This has nothing to do with the ultimate fate of many of these fish, which makes the name disturbingly ironic). And life for a baby fish, usually an inch or less in length, is filled with dangers seen and unseen: Water current sweeps you away; small leaves, branches and debris, disregarded by other animals, become hazardous challenges; and just about everything, from birds to frogs to other fish, want to eat you. Chemicals in the water, both naturally-occurring and artificial can disrupt a fishes’ sensory and nervous system; run-off and turbulence resulting in cloudy or muddy conditions can disorientate or suffocate. Water temperature is vital; any significant change hotter or colder means death. Some fish can only survive within a temperature range of about 20 degrees.

Just like the canary in the coal mine of times past (miners would take a caged canary down into the mine. If the canary passes out due to invisible poisonous gas, it’s time for humans to return to the surface. There were far fewer animal rights spokespersons in those days), today fish throughout the world; and particularly freshwater species such as Salmon and Trout (genera Oncorhynchus and Salmo); have become the ‘canary in the water’, as entire populations disappear due to increasing global temperatures, isolation from diversion of rivers; and run-off from timber-cutting, farming, and other forms of land-clearing. In some areas water temperatures are already approaching the top range of these fishes’ tolerance, and any further upward creep – many scientists are projecting up to three degrees warmer in the next fifty years – would leave suitable freshwater habitat only in the deepest lakes, while most streams, ponds and even rivers remain empty. In a recent research study it was found of the 25 remaining species of America’s native trout, today 13 species occupy less than 25% of their historic habitat.

Trout jumping hatchery LG

Young trout in a hatchery practice leaping over water obstacles they may find in the wild. Possibly on their way to school.

While this is unfortunate for trout and other fish that live their entire lives in high-country, mountainous environments, salmon must return, every year, to the ocean. And without healthy and open streams and rivers that allow migration from forested rivers to the sea; as well as the return trip back to the same stream where each individual salmon was born; the entire wild salmon species could collapse. Of course, humans raise fish in hatcheries and on fish farms (must continue Seafood Friday!), but fish can’t stay on the farm forever and when grown large enough, are normally released into the wild (even fish on farms want to one day go to the big city. Where they’ll probably be eaten). Throughout these recent years of drought and oppressive heat in California, multiple hatcheries have had to be temporarily closed due to inadequate amounts, quality, or temperature of water, and the fish (those that could survive the journey) trucked hundreds of miles to alternative and emergency locations.

Not many people, it’s likely, consider baby fish as we go about our lives. When thought of as food or a diversion, fish have always been there and so are taken for granted. But as our climate changes and each of us, human and wildlife alike, encounter more and greater challenges, we might want to look at the fish who could be warning us we are moving from fry, to the frying pan.


Michonne Says: I don’t know much about fish. They live in the water which is fine for them but I don’t care for it. Racoons and Hawks and Bears and all sorts of other sharp-teeth animals eat fish, but marmots would never, ever, not even think about eating fish. Or going too close to the water. You never know what could be down there.

Posted December 6, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in ECOVIA Central

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