Archive for the ‘fish’ Tag
Ten-thousand pounds of trout is one big trout. Yet that’s what the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is about to release into Northern California waterways within the next few days. Although not one, really large trout (which would be about the size of an elephant), but thousands of far smaller, hatching trout that weigh about half and pound each. These Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) come from nearby fish hatcheries, both government- and privately-owned ‘fish farms’ that raise millions of baby fish each year, all eventually transferred to lakes, rivers and waterways.
While many of these fish eventually are caught by fishermen and end up as someones breakfast or dinner, others who are lucky or smart enough not to be fooled by plastic worms can live ten or more years; grow up to 50 pounds; and become the parents of hundreds of offspring. Unless, in their best efforts to avoid sportsmen the fish are eaten by bears. Or raccoons. Or birds. All of which are reasons thousands of fish have to be re-stocked each year and for job security, being a fish-farmer might be a good choice.
Fish stocking often includes a brief, but exciting, water-park slide.
Fish-stocking (or planting) is usually scheduled twice per year, in the Spring before summer heat raises water temperatures; and again in the Fall, so the fish have a few winter months to grow. But due to the California drought which is slightly less severe this year, fish are being moved into lakes and rivers to encourage and support the local fishing industry (someone’s got to buy all that bait), and fulfill the Fish and Wildlife Departments responsibilities of not only protecting and preserving wildlife and wild places; but providing recreational opportunities for outdoorsmen and adventurers. Although the fish would probably prefer we all stay home. They’ve got enough to worry about with the bears, raccoons and birds all ready and waiting for fish buffet.
Michonne Says: Phooey. Who would want to live in the water and be wet all the time? And where would you sleep because there’s no place to dig or even if you did make a hole water would fill it up. To me, none of this seems like those fish planned very well.
Prior to the 20th Century, rivers throughout America ran freely: From their source headwaters; through forests and meadows, across prairies and sometimes underneath deserts; coursing toward the oceans while carving majestic canyons and molding the landscape; providing water and homes for countless fish, birds and other wildlife. The rivers were neither stopped nor faltered by any obstruction or barrier but surpassed and pushed through anything in their path. The rivers reserved all their energy for themselves, occasionally flooding farms and defeating towns to show humans who, really, is the boss. Selfish rivers. But beginning in the 1890s and continuing through the first half of the 20th century, humans took on this imposing power of uninterrupted water through the construction of hydroelectric dams; structures that, by channeling water flow and harnessing the power and strength of water provided tens of thousands of megawatts of electric energy to power the growth of cites and provide basic electrical power to rural communities. Take that, rivers.
While this all generally worked out fine for humans, hulking cement structures re-routing and blocking natural river flow was neither useful, not helpful, to wildlife: Fish, including Salmon and Trout (family Salmonidae) who need large stretches of turbulent water to thrive were restricted or populations cut off; wetlands were flooded or drained, the loss of homes to species from insects to mammals and vital to migrating birds who had fewer places to rest along flights of thousands of miles; and dams brought about changes in the amount and speed of flowing water (literally, the ‘ebb’ and ‘flow’), creating downstream basins holding millions of gallons of water in artificial lakes while upstream ecological communities suffered from water loss.
Dams can lead to stagnant water and unregulated algae growth. This can’t be good for anybody.
Crossing the border between California and Oregon lies the Klamath River. For centuries one of the main water sources for Northern California (the second largest river in the state) and a significant part of Oregon, the river continued unobstructed as Lewis and Clark charted a path to the Pacific Ocean; pioneers followed the Oregon Trail toward a better life; and 49er’s searched for gold. Local Native Americans believed the river was holy, balancing their lives with the river flow. But due to continued growth and development by the 1920’s dams were being built across the Klamath – by 1960 a total of four complexes providing power and regulating water resources to the benefit of man. Not so much to the benefit of anyone else.
While hydroelectric power is important, so is a healthy environment. Last month, the U.S. Department of the Interior; U.S. Department of Commerce; dam management company PacificCorp; and the states of California and Oregon entered into an agreement to remove all four dams on the Klamath River by 2020, resulting in one of the largest river restoration efforts in the country. Working with Native Nations; local communities; non-profit organizations and other interested parties, this agreement will work toward providing more equitable water resources to farms, ranches, and communities; allow for water recreation such as rafting and fishing; and perhaps most importantly, restore the river and river basin to its natural ecology. While this is a huge and hugely expensive project, the true cost can’t be measured in dollars but in the salmon who once again will be able to freely migrate to the ocean (and back!); flocks of birds who find a safe refuge in river-created marshes; and the numbers of people who just enjoy a peaceful afternoon sitting under a tree by the flowing water. And the only dams to be seen are built by beavers whose goal isn’t creating electrical power for televisions and computers and to light up the night sky; but just to keep the water from washing away their house.
Michonne Says: These ‘dams’ make water so there’s even more of it in one place? I don’t think I like that. Water’s best when it just passes by and maybe you can get a drink but then it doesn’t stay around. Then things could live in it and who knows that that could be. It’s best to leave that kind of water to bears (who like the fish) and striped-tail-night-mask raccoons (who don’t know better).
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.
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.
Fish, we would believe, are all more-or-less the same. Fins, gills, scales and tails would be enough for most anyone to guess, here we have a fish. Or perhaps for many of us, the only relationship we have with these aquatic avatars is through the dinner plate. But what if a fish didn’t have these identifying features; or lacked not all, but just one or two? Would a fish still be a fish, by any other name?
Please meet the White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), otherwise known as the Pacific Sturgeon; Oregon Sturgeon; and California Sturgeon. Not surprisingly, this is a fish native to the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California, Oregon, Canada and as far north as Alaska. While he does sport fins; gills; and a tail (actually no fish has more than one tail. That’s a feature reserved for sea monsters); what Sturgey does not have, are scales. It’s not that he swims in the nude – in place of scales, he’s covered in scutes, large, boney plates that more resemble a knights armour than the sleek and slippery scales favored by today’s modern fish.
Because the White Sturgeon – along with all other types of Sturgeon that can be found throughout the world – is a very, very old fish. Individual sturgeon can live up to 100 years, which is a long life by anyone’s standards; but as a group, the family of fish that holds all sturgeon goes back 175 million years. That’s before any humans, or even anything resembling a human; before most any mammal; before much of the land and water features we know were formed; all the way into the Jurassic Period – the time of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, giant marine reptiles; of flying pterosaurs; of Brachiosaurus; Stegosaurus; and T-Rex. Also, we would believe, the time blockbuster movies can re-create, but the sturgeon doesn’t benefit from that because he doesn’t have a very good agent.
Back then, fish were very different from what we recognize today. Known as cartilaginous fish, or Chondrichthyes, these fish don’t have a skeleton made of bone like most other fish – and most animals in total (except for insects, of course. And mollusks. But that’s another story). Sharks, rays, skates (something like a combination of a shark and a ray) all have cartilaginous skeletons, cartilage being flexible tissue that in humans forms connections between our bones, but in cartilaginous animals serves as the ‘bones’; and, like Sturgey and every sturgeon, all cartilaginous creatures are also very, very old animals dating back millions of years. Sharks, that today so many think are dangerous man killers and should be destroyed, have been here far longer than any human has and obviously didn’t survive all this time by eating men which weren’t around to eat. So maybe it’s not the shark that’s the villain; but the human need to create an adversary.
While all this fish history is interesting (or maybe not so much), the white sturgeon is, thankfully, not a species that today is particularly in danger, threatened, or otherwise at risk (in the late 1800’s California sturgeon was overfished leading to restrictions and conservation, but since then the populations have recovered and can now support light commercial and recreational fishing). What may be most interesting about sturgeon is their size – recorded at 20 feet, with possible longer individuals that have never been documented – the White Sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America, where they move between fresh and salt (ocean) water. And, of interest to some, while somewhat revolting to others, the fine dining indulgence of caviar is actually Sturgeon eggs. Almost exclusively from what’s considered higher-grade types of European sturgeon, this delicacy often considered the height of luxury and ostentation is actually eggs from a species so old, they’ve outlived millions of years of natures’ successes and failures. Except, of course, the appetites of man.
Michonne Says: This is another story about fishies and marmots don’t have much to say about fishies. Anything that lives in the water like that you have to watch out for. Who knows what’s hiding down there? Maybe there’s water wolves or water hawks or something. You never know.
‘Nemo’ is a Latin word meaning ‘no one’. Throughout history, many characters in literature and arts have been named ‘Nemo’ – usually as someone who is vulnerable, minimized, or otherwise lost. A few years ago in a popular movie about a small fish trying to find his way home, the title character was a Clownfish named Nemo. Today, the Orange Clownfish (Amphiprion percula) – along with eight other reef fish – are being considered for threatened or endangered protection due to population stress and loss of natural environment. While the movie was about Nemo finding his way back, it seems possible that we still could loose the clownfish, forever.
Clownfish – along with other reef fish such as Damselfish, Angelfish and Anemonefish – all live around, and in, coral reefs (it’s a good thing they don’t live in caves, or other enclosed spaces. Then they would be ‘cell-fish’. And no one likes an egotistical fish). Coral reefs are composed of billions of tiny coral polyps that produce the calcium carbonate that forms the hard, stony coral. So it’s not actually coral we think of when we see the large, colorful, almost-castle-like undersea formations; it’s the calcium homes of the coral animals. And thanks to these coral structures, complex environments are created that become home to countless species – small fish, large fish looking for the small fish and even larger fish looking for those fish; sea turtles; snails, anemones, sponges, shrimp, crabs, and all types of other sea life. It’s like a seafood restaurant, but without the all-you-want biscuits.
Within these reefs – which consist of less than 0.1% of the ocean but provide homes for over 25% of all ocean species – are found the small Clown, Damsel, Angel and other reef fish who depend on the coral for food and shelter. The clown even lives inside anemones, a soft, trunk-like animal, even though the anemone has poisonous barbs it uses to catch and eat other fish. While we’d think the clownfish and the anemones might be really, really good friends, what protects clown-ey isn’t the bonds of friendship as much as the protective coat of mucus that cover the fishes’ body. (If you’re trying to avoid someone, we do not suggest covering your body in mucus. Although it probably would work to keep most people away).
“Sure, some say it’s too big for just the three of us, but look at the fantastic open-space plan and bonus tentacles!”
But while the rock-hard coral formations are very tough and long-lasting, the little polyps are not, and without the polyps the entire system breaks down. Unfortunately, the polyps are rather sensitive, and due to rising ocean temperatures polyps in reefs around the world are dying, leading to coral bleaching – which is just what it sounds like – resulting in any fish or other animals that can move relocating to other reefs; and the anemones and sponges and plants and other species that can’t move, dying along with the reefs themselves.
So this leaves Clown-ey without a home. Well, except for the commercial divers that collect as many reef fish as possible to sell to pet and fish stores. It’s estimated that reef fish are 43% of all fish sold – approximately 900,000 a year – and of those about 400,000 are clownfish. Even though there are billions of fish in the sea, removing about a million a year to sell in plastic bags isn’t going to help the population. And while clownfish have been known to live up to an amazing 30 years! – twice a long as other reef fish, and six times greater than any other fish of similar size – we all know fish don’t live very long at all when removed from their natural environment and put into a tank with a fluorescent light and little water-wheel.
It’s a combination of rising ocean temperatures (linked to changing climates around the world); increasing pollution and acidification of ocean waters; and intense commercial decorative fish harvest that’s put these reef fish on emergency alert status. Within the next few weeks scientists and researchers will study fish, anemone and coral populations, take measurements and make estimates of positive and negative factors, and determine if Clown and Damsel and five other reef fish should be registered for government protection. If placed on the threatened or endangered list this doesn’t mean we can’t continue to enjoy and care for the fish in our own aquariums – it just means that by finding Nemo needs a little help, it could turn him from a no-one, into a true celebrity.
Michonne Says: The corals are like rocks where animals live? I know all about that because I live in the rocky places too. But I don’t know what a ‘poly-up’ is. If they’re the ones who make the rock I’d think I would have seen some by now, even if they are really small. Maybe I need to look harder.
In an extraordinary decision, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have released all fish from two up-river hatcheries because of the unusual low water levels of neighboring streams and rivers, and the rising temperature of water that’s still flowing. The young fish – called ‘fry’ or ‘fingerlings’ or ‘juveniles’ – are normally kept in hatcheries through the fall and winter, only released into the river system when they are old enough to care for themselves; but this year, in order to save as many fish as possible, officials have taken the never-before step of, literally, opening the flood gates and setting loose over 430,000 fingerling Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss); Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha).
The fish, which require water temperatures no more than 63 degrees, will hopefully seek out deeper and cooler lakes and reservoirs on their way to the ocean – but even so, the fish may be too young to follow their ‘swim to the ocean’ instinct and scientists are monitoring the fish populations to better understand how these little fish will respond to life in an even-more-harsh-than-normal environment, and this research could help in future release schedules and planning. What is certain, with all of these snack-size fish set free in ever-more shallow water, could lead to a feast for raccoons and hawks and eagles and bears and most any other animal that isn’t about to let a fish lunch swim by.
In past times of low-waters or rising temperature, hatchery officials have requested fresh, cool water be released from nearby lakes. But with the severe, almost unimaginable drought in California and through most of the Western US, there’s not enough water in many lakes to even reach spillway level, the parts of a dam that are designed to allow water to pass. And the water that is in the lakes is too shallow and warm – in some places estimated to reach 78 degrees or warmer – to do the fish any good.
While it’s expected the fish in most of California’s hatcheries should be fine and can remain in their nurseries though the summer, it’s ironic that this mass release comes only a year after one of the most successful fish count-and-release seasons on record. In the 2013 season (fish grown large enough for normal release through the autumn and winter of 2013 – 2014), more Trout and Salmon passed through fish-counting stations, on their way to the ocean, than any previous season.
With fall and winter rain and snow the hatcheries will be able to re-stock and help grow another generation of Trout and Salmon that will help maintain a healthy ecology and provide recreation and income for fishermen and business owners that rely on a balanced environment. But if the expected (and hoped for!) precipitation doesn’t come, in a worst-case situation we could be seeing fewer fish fry – and more fried fish.
Folsom Lake, California, March 2011 on the left – on the right, January 2014
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” John Muir
This weekend, we honor Endangered Species Day. Some calendars mark the day as May 16; others state May 18 (we think endangered and threatened species should be remembered everyday); but throughout the country, Zoos, Aquariums, Environmental Educators, and friends-of-the environment will be remembering the species that are gone – and working to keep even more plants and animals from going away, forever.
The most respected environmental scientists report 905 extinct species and 16,928 listed as threatened with extinction, worldwide. In North America, 256 plant and animal species are now gone and hundreds more threatened. Due to global warming, it’s believed every wild Polar Bear (Ursus articus) could be extinct in less than fifty years.
But why does every species matter? Is every little insect and each type of bird and all the various types of grass and flowers and trees really necessary? What could we, as humans, loose with a few more species gone; what harm could it possibly be?
Aside from the behavior and purpose of species we know – like bees and other insects pollinating plants (which result in nearly every fruit and vegetable); and predators preventing swarming over populations that would overrun and destroy everything in their path; and plants providing oxygen (aside from being nice to look at); no one knows what other roles each and every species play in our world; and through the loss of even one, otherwise insignificant-appearing plant or animal, what string would be loosened which unravels an ecosystem, or an environment, or the world. Is that a risk, we’re willing to take?