Saving our freshwater fish population is an essential environmental issue!
Freshwater fish live in just 0.1 percent of the earth's water. There are about 30,000 different species of fish that live in lakes and rivers, sharing their habitat with amphibians, crocodiles, mussels and snails. Over half of the 573 species in the United States that are threatened with extinction are freshwater animals, and 39% of that list are fish. Freshwater species are becoming extinct on average five times faster than land and salt water animals. These are alarming rates. Hidden from our eyes, many of them not a fisherman's prey, they all have their place in the food chain and play significant parts in the freshwater ecosystem. The freshwater fish that we eat depend on a healthy ecosystem. Given the rate of extinction for freshwater animals, can we expect to find those edible fish we love to eat alive ten or twenty years from now?
The threat to all freshwater animals, including freshwater fish, is due to human activity. Thanks to us, creeks and streams are drying up and quality of much of the water is poisonous. Humans need water too. The agricultural revolution around 800 BC brought about a new way of life for humanity, one that required more water than the species had ever needed before. Prior to the agricultural revolution we had used water just as the wild animals do, for drinking, bathing, and for cooling ourselves off. Our demands for water were balanced with the rest of nature.
When civilization took root between 6000 BC to 2000 BC, and agriculture became the dominate means for getting our food, fresh water became essential. Rainfall was not always dependable. Watering crops required that creeks and rivers be tapped, dammed and diverted. Cities sprang up along freshwater streams and rivers, close enough to farmlands to facilitate the distribution of foods, as well as textiles. Early in our history we became a danger to freshwater life.
Then, few saw the harm in damming or diverting streams and rivers, yet we can be sure many species that evolved in particular locales were destroyed by these activities. Unknowingly, we often dammed migratory paths, such as occurred in the 1900s to the detriment of the sturgeon of the Southeast. Denied their spawning grounds, many freshwater fish disappeared forever.
Neither did we see harm in using freshwater waterways to carry our sewage and trash away from cities. Water could dissolve our refuse. Had the quantity of pollutants remained at low levels, the earth's fresh water might have continued to serve us in this way, but populations grew, along with technology. By the 1800s, cities and factories were spewing tons of waste into these freshwater courses, poisoning the water and annihilating an unknown number of freshwater fish species.
Humans hadn't intentionally brought so many freshwater fish and animal species to extinction. When we finally realized what we were doing, we enacted environmental laws to protect our freshwaters and the species that depend on fresh water for their lives. The U.S. launched cleanup and conservation programs to recover polluted creeks, streams, and rivers. The effect of these projects and laws are starting to pay off. Populations of freshwater fish are now on the rise. Although we will never be able to bring back those species that became extinct at our hands, we are now finally protecting those that remain.
Not now, not ever, is it time to relax our environmental laws. If we continue to care for our freshwater fish and other animals, our grandchildren may yet have the chance to fish as their ancestors once did, and know the joy of hooking a fat and succulent freshwater fish for a delicious and tasty meal. Spread the word!