marlow is the Senior Director of California Trout’s South Coast Program and lives in Ventura. Jacobson is the Director of the Southern California Coast Trout Region, the research and advocacy organization that submitted the petition to list Southern Rainbow Trout, and lives in Rancho San Diego.
In a black-and-white photo dated 1912, two men suspend a pole from which hang more than ten feet of long Southern California rainbows. The image echoes the oral tradition of the Chumash tribes, which speaks of rainbow trout as an abundant food source, and provides further evidence that these iconic fish were once abundant in rivers and streams coastal Southern California. But due to the continued destruction of rainbow trout habitat, compounded by predation and competition from non-native species and disease, southern rainbow trout are at risk of becoming extinct over the course of the year. of the next 25 years.
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Like salmon, rainbow trout hatch in cold waterways and reach adulthood in the ocean. Just a century ago, more than 10,000 southern rainbow trout returned to rivers and streams stretching from the Santa Maria River to the Mexican border to spawn each year. Now only 200 adults return most years. This precipitous decline is bad news for more than these fish; it is also a sign that our coastal watersheds are in serious trouble. Because just like fish, people need clean water and healthy watersheds to survive.
Through genetic analyses, scientists have established southern rainbow trout as a unique population group with traits advantageous for survival in the region’s long droughts and relatively warmer waters. Southern Rainbow Trout are currently listed as a federally endangered species in rivers below natural and man-made barriers. The California Fish and Game Commission is now considering a formal petition to also list this species as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. Listing southern rainbow trout under the California Endangered Species Act would provide the impetus needed to recover this species.
Southern rainbow trout face continued habitat loss due to dams and other barriers to fish passage. The rivers and streams on which they depend suffer from lower and warmer flows due to both surface water diversions and groundwater pumping. Continuing habitat degradation due to human activity as well as natural events linked to our climate crisis, including widespread wildfires, droughts, floods and warming waters, are equally problematic.
Expanding protections under the California Endangered Species Act would ensure that projects affecting waterways within the range of southern rainbow trout are carefully designed to avoid or minimize harm to these fish . It would place a higher priority on the funding and strategic planning of restoration projects that benefit them. The state listing would also give more legal weight to efforts to remove barriers that block rainbow trout from historic spawning grounds, such as Ventura County’s Matilija Dam and Rindge Dam in the Malibu Creek watershed in Los Angeles County. And a California Endangered Species Act listing would recognize the fundamental importance and dire plight of this iconic species.
Like the Federal Endangered Species Act listing, the California Endangered Species Act listing application specifies that Southern Rainbow Trout should be protected in all waterways of its historic range under existing barriers. Rainbow trout populations landlocked above these barriers are closely related to southern rainbow trout, but are not endangered. Designation under the barriers in the California Endangered Species Act listing would allow anglers to continue fishing for rainbow trout and inject much needed recreational funds into rural economies where fishing is a common pastime. It would also support ongoing research and management, coordinated among state and federal agencies, to benefit rainbow trout and deepen our scientific understanding of the relationship between rainbow trout and their cousins. fresh water.
Steelhead needs cool, clean water to survive. But southern rainbow trout are naturally adapted to survive in moderately warmer waters than other rainbow trout populations. This trait could allow them to expand their range northward as climate change brings warmer waters to the entire west coast. This remarkable adaptation makes the effort to save rainbow trout all the more urgent.
Some aquatic districts have raised concerns about the decision to expand the Southern Rainbow Trout listing under the California Endangered Species Act. Managing water for public health and safety, including projects affecting drinking water supply, stormwater diversion, flood control, and groundwater recharge, is a complex and essential task. But the concerns raised by these agencies can be addressed through well-designed policies and regulations without sacrificing the increased protections for southern rainbow trout. Watersheds should also be aware that healthy populations of Southern Rainbow Trout are a sign that the watersheds they depend on for drinking water are functioning as they should.
Time is running out if we hope to save this iconic native species from extinction. The abundance of wild fish, including rainbow trout, indicates healthy waters, and healthy waters benefit all Californians. Protecting rainbow trout goes hand in hand with efforts to restore our rivers.
We encourage the California Fish and Game Commission to join the federal government in listing the Southern California rainbow trout as endangered. Visit bit.ly/steelheadcesa to learn more.