Urgent Action Needed to Protect Freshwater Fish, Their Habitats, & Related Economy
Climate change is the most serious threat to America’s freshwater fish and urgent action is needed at all levels to preserve key species and their habitats, according to a new report released today by the National Wildlife Federation. Swimming Upstream: Freshwater Fish in a Warming World details how climate change is already putting many species of freshwater fish in Maine, New Hampshire, and across the nation at risk, creating an uncertain future for fishing traditions and risking many jobs sustained by the angling and fish-processing industries.
“This report adds urgency for President Obama’s climate action plan to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change in Maine’s precious streams and lakes,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The Environmental Protection Agency should finalize national limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants as soon as possible to protect freshwater fish in Maine and elsewhere.”
“With 97 percent of the nation’s remaining native brook trout, Maine is the last stand for these magnificent cold water fish. Shame on us if we lose them,” said George Smith outdoor writer, newspaper columnist, television show host, and former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
“A warming New Hampshire was found to be threatening brook trout even in the far northern reaches of the Granite State,” said Eric Orff, wildlife biologist, National Wildlife Federation. “Recently water temperatures in Indian Stream, near the Canadian border, were measured in the mid-80s, way too warm for our native brook trout. Radio tagged trout had to move out of the stream to cooler waters to survive.”
“My family had operated a sporting business for over a half a century,” said Jason McKenzie, owner, Suds n’ Soda sporting goods shop, Greenland, New Hampshire. “Now we find our warming winters are reducing safe winter ice, significantly impacting our winter business. Warmer winters are now more frequent, especially this last ten years.”
Freshwater fish are very sensitive to water temperatures and many species can only thrive in cold and cool waters. Temperatures even a few degrees above a species’ needed temperature can dramatically increase stress, make them more susceptible to toxins, parasites, and disease, and can deter growth and threaten survival, especially as more warm-water species move into warming waters.
Climate change is warming our lakes, rivers, and streams causing:
• Less habitat for many cold-water species, as brook and lake temperatures simply exceed acceptable levels more often;
• More stress from habitat loss, polluted water, invasive species, and disease; and
• More competition from warmer-water species.
Sportsmen are already seeing changes where they fish:
- More extreme weather events can increase fish mortality — ironically both more drought and more intense flooding from storms. Parts of New England experienced “100-year” storm events in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
- Shorter winters with less snow and ice cover can shift stream flows and water availability in the spring and summer, interfering with wildlife cycles.
- Warmer water temperatures, especially combined with more run-off erosion from greater storms, can cause faster depletion of oxygen in lakes and increase summer fish kills. This appears to have happened in Lake Auburn in Maine in 2012.
- Warmer, shorter winters result in ice on many lakes being too thin for safe ice fishing, a popular recreation in many Maine and New Hampshire communities. Many derbies have been cancelled, leaving businesses high and dry; winter temperatures in the Northeast are increasing at twice the national average.
Climate change is taking an economic toll. The 27 million Americans who fish every year spend $27 billion annually. On average, each angler fished 17 days and spent an average of $934. The decline in fishing days for coldwater fish could cause a projected annual national economic loss anywhere from $81 million to $6.4 billion by the end of this century, compared to 2009, say experts. Communities that rely on winter ice fishing are already seeing downturns.
Swimming Upstream outlines actions needed to address climate change and ensure a thriving fishing tradition:
- Cut climate-disrupting carbon pollution. Because carbon pollution is driving climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency must continue moving forward with its authority to finalize limits on carbon pollution from new power plants in early 2014 and existing power plants by 2016.
- Transition to cleaner, less-polluting energy. Move to more wind, solar, ocean, and sustainable bioenergy.
- Capitalize on and restore natural systems. Enhance nature’s ability to absorb and store carbon, and preserve and restore habitats like forests and other natural lands.
- Adapt to enhance the resiliency of freshwater aquatic habitats, as climate change is already occurring.
- Use non-structural, nature-based approaches. Pursue approaches like wetlands restoration and floodplain protection in lieu of reservoirs and manmade structures to minimize impacts on fisheries. Direct development away from sensitive aquatic habitats and climate-vulnerable areas.