Arizona has one of the most diverse native fisheries in North America. It’s also one of the most imperiled. 23 of the remaining 36 native fish species are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened, endangered, or candidates for listing. One species, the Monkey Springs pupfish, is extinct.
Most of Arizona’s native fish species occur nowhere else in the world having adapted over thousands of years to thrive in the State’s warmer freshwater desert streams. But over the past 150 years, human land uses, development, surface water diversions, groundwater pumping, cattle grazing, mining, and the introduction of non-native species has decimated the natural aquatic biodiversity.
Non-native fish have surfaced as one of the key obstructions to native fish viability. Non-native fish, including rainbow and brown trout as well as catfish, were stocked after native populations of edible species were fished out. Other non-natives include bait fish and hobby tank fish like carp. These species out compete with the native fish for food and habitat. They also prey upon smaller and juvenile native fish.
In the San Pedro River mainstem alone, only two of the original 14 native fish species remain viable — the longfin dace and Sonora sucker. A third species, the desert sucker, is quickly disappearing, and the Gila chub, which just a few years ago could only be found in the Mexico reach of the river has not turned up in recent surveys.
In recent years, stream and native fishery renovation has come forward as a possible redemption for the years of abuse. Fossil Creek now boasts some ten native fish species and zero non-native fish species after restoration efforts removed all of the non-natives and re-stocked/re-introduced natives. The success of this project has been heralded across the nation. Stillman Lake, a headwater reach of the Verde River, is currently in the process of being restored as a native fishery. Hopefully in the near future, the entire 25 miles of the upper Verde River will join the ranks of the few streams/stream segments managed as natives-only fisheries.
This can only be the beginning. In order to restore Arizona’s native fish populations, many more miles of streams must be reclaimed for natives. Flowing rivers must be protected. Our natural heritage must be preserved.
Native Fish Cam
Live streaming video of razorback sucker at Bubbling Ponds Hatchery (click on the x to remove advertising)
Click here to visit the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Web page with more information about Arizona’s native fish.