Fish and Fisheries as Managed Wildlife Populations

Analogous changes have taken place with regard to fishes. Once, what one wanted was fish to catch; and fishing remains a popular recreation. But there is an increasing concern with native fish populations, including all species.

The native fish fauna of North America has been tampered with possibly as extensively as, and certainly more rapidly than, the fish on any other continent. Managers have introduced "game" and eliminated "trash" fish; humans have made dams and water developments for domestic, industrial, and agricultural uses; polluted; caused erosional sedimentation; and accidentally introduced parasites and diseases. Of the endangered fishes of the world, about 70 percent are in North America; 56 percent are receiving some degree of protection. The fishes in the United States have been as disturbed as any other wildlife, more so in the West than in the East, most of all in the Southwest. The Endangered Species Committee of the Desert Fishes Council identifies 164 fishes in North American deserts as endangered, vulnerable, rare, or warranting various degrees of concern.

Concern for these fishes has modified or stopped water development projects. On the Virgin River and its tributaries in Utah in 1980, for example, water authorities abandoned the Warner Valley project lest it jeopardize the woundfin, and built the Quail Creek project instead. Water release from dams may be adjusted in time and volume for the benefit of endangered fish and bird species (Minckley and Deacon).

Coming to focus again in endangered species legislation, what humans think they ought to manage for is shifting from game species to native fishery populations. There is an increasing sense of duty, represented in wildlife managers, to ensure the presence of fishes as an integral part of the wildlife community, not just for the human benefits involved but out of respect for what these fishes are in themselves, as well as for their roles in the riparian ecosystems.

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