Fish habitat could decline by 50% within the lifetime of a child born today

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Report looks at effect of climate change on freshwater

By Paul A. Smith of the Journal Sentinel

Sept. 14, 2013

America's coldwater fish habitat could decline by 50% within the lifetime of a child born today due to climate change, according to a report released last week by the National Wildlife Federation.

The report, "Swimming Upstream: Freshwater Fish in a Warming World," details how climate change is warming lakes, rivers and streams and making existing stresses worse, creating an uncertain future for America's freshwater fishing traditions and related jobs.

"More extreme heat and drought are already causing big problems for fish that rely on cold, clean water," said Doug Inkley, National Wildlife Federation senior scientist and co-author of the report. "And the warming we've seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg."

Inkley said it was possible to protect America's outdoor heritage, but only if immediate action is taken to cut industrial carbon pollution, invest in clean energy and make communities and habitats more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The report includes data that show America's lakes, rivers and streams are warming, causing habitat loss for many cold-water species; exacerbation of existing elements of stress, such as polluted water, invasive species and disease; and increased competition from warm-water species

"Temperature increases of even a few degrees can have dramatic impacts, harming iconic game fish like salmon, trout and walleye and giving a leg up to destructive invaders like sea lamprey," said Jack Williams, Trout Unlimited senior scientist. "We need to manage our water resources in a way that ensures that both people and fish have the clean, cool, and abundant water they need to survive."

Climate change is affecting seasonal patterns and loading the dice for extreme weather, according to the report.

The changes include warmer, shorter winters with less snow and ice cover.

In addition, droughts are becoming more frequent, reducing available habitat and warming remaining water faster, leaving fewer cool or cold-water refuges for fish.

The report recommends reducing carbon pollution 50% by 2030 as well as transitioning to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels while avoiding energy choices such as coal and tar sands oil.

The full report is available at

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