Skip to main content
  1. News
  2. Environment

5 Endangered or threatened California fish

See also

Californians this year have been suffering from the effects of one of the worst droughts in history. The resultant reduction in fresh water supplies will adversely impact agricultural, commercial, and residential interests. In addition, it may make efforts to protect endangered and threatened species of wildlife even more difficult as competing interests strive to secure scarce water supplies for themselves.

Here is a list of five species of California fish that are endangered and/or threatened under either California or federal laws. Some were historically very prevalent here in the San Joaquin Valley as well as other areas of the state. Some now may face added threats as a result of the drought and another has already been classified as no longer being present in California.

For more information: Endangered & Threatened Animals in California

Suggested further reading:

5 California fishing streams closed due to drought

Tiny delta smelt wins a big legal victory against ag and urban interests

2 California cities are in top 5 of 2014 Energy Star certified buildings list

Chinook Salmon
Chinook Salmon California DFG

Chinook Salmon

The National Marine Fisheries Service listed the Chinook Salmon as threatened in 1990 and endangered in 1994.  The largest of all salmon, they often exceed 40 lbs with reports of some over 120 lbs. Adults migrate from ocean waters into the freshwater streams and rivers where they were born in order to mate. After spawning, however, they die.

West coast populations have seen large declines over the last several decades as a result of various human and natural reasons, however, no single factor explains it.

Little Kern Golden Trout
Little Kern Golden Trout California DFG

Little Kern Golden Trout

The Little Kern Golden Trout is listed as federally threatened. For over 25 years, wildlife officials have been trying to increase its population and add more habitat. A subspecies of rainbow trout, it was limited to only 10 miles of stream when recovery efforts began in 1975. However, with the removal of golden trout/rainbow trout hybrids, almost 100 miles of streams, rivers, and lakes have been restocked with pure Little Kern golden trout.

Central Valley Steelhead
Central Valley Steelhead USFWS

Central Valley Steelhead

Central Valley Steelhead are listed as federally threatened. Similar to salmon in many ways, they do not necessarily die after spawning. They spend the first 1 – 3 years of their lives in fresh water, but, most of their growth occurs after they migrate to ocean waters. Although listed as federally endangered for several years, some have called for a review of its status and think it should be removed from the list.

Bull Trout
Bull Trout Oregon DFW

Bull Trout

The Bull Trout is federally threatened and state endangered in California. It used to proliferate in the six western states of Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho and Montana. However, its population has declined  to less than half its historic range. In fact, technically it is considered to not even exist in California anymore.

Factors affecting the population decline include climate change, human activities such as logging and agriculture, poor water quality, and the introduction of non-native species such as brown, lake, and brook trout.

Delta Smelt
Delta Smelt USFWS

Delta Smelt

Last but not least on this list is a tiny fish that has become the symbol of a gigantic political and ecological controversy. The Delta Smelt is listed as federally threatened and state endangered in California. Literally facing extinction, the delta smelt has become a symbol for both those who support and those who oppose efforts taken to protect it. The recent and severe drought in California has brought claims by agricultural and other commercial interests in Central and Southern California, as well as other parts of the country, that the fish is more important than people and their jobs.

Forces threatening the delta smelt include urbanization, the introduction of non-native species, water diversions, pollution, and the conversion of tidal habitats to leveed channels.