Review: A Guide to California's Freshwater Fishes
Miller, Ryder W., Electronic Green Journal
Review: A Guide to California's Freshwater Fishes By Bob Madgic; Illustrated by William L. Crary. Bob Madgic. A Guide to California's Freshwater Fishes. Happy Camp, CA: Naturegraph Publishers, 1999. 160 pp. ISBN 0-87961-254-1 (paper). US$19.95
Out of sight and therefore out of mind, except perhaps when an angler is interested in catching a meal, freshwater fish swim through perilous, degraded and often polluted waters. Once truly wild, some fish species, like the salmon, are also approaching domesticated status due to the reliance on hatchery release programs. Wet, smelly and often cold, fish and their preservation and protection may offer a challenge to conservationists, who have an easier time with the warm fuzzy things we don't want to eat.
Intended as a book for the lay person, A Guide To California's Freshwater Fishes by author and conservationist Dr. Bob Madgic and illustrator William L. Crary succeeds in clearly telling the sad history of California freshwater fishes, celebrating the diversity of freshwater fish that exists in the golden state, and relaying the efforts needed to protect them.
As Madgic points out, fish are the most important indicator of aquatic diversity; they signal the health of our waterways, and therefore in some ways the state of the planet. Madgic notes that California's history is "reflected in the changing status of its fishes." (p. 7)
Madgic begins by telling the long, bleak story of what has happened to the California fish stock, which used to be one of the world's richest. Millions of salmon once migrated up the state's rivers to spawn. As Madgic relays, "In California's inland waters resided some of the most beautiful fish imaginable- -the state's native trout species." (p. 11)
But California's freshwater fish are in trouble. Two-thirds of the 116 native California fishes are now species of special concern. Sixty-six of these species are endemic to the state. Declines have been due to habitat destruction and introduced species. Florida is the only state with more introduced species than California. Introductions of fish for fishing stock, and the desire to stock any fish species in any available water, led to the demise of the local fish, in some cases extirpation of the native fish species. The problem was compounded by agriculture, which consumed a large majority of the state's water supply. The Department of Fish and Game was also a culprit, being interested primarily with satisfying the fisherman rather than protecting the river ecosystems. "The ongoing practice of introductions, designed to enhance sporting opportunities, led to increasingly artificial environments and fishing experiences. Angling in California became more and more designed, and less and less natural. A reliance on hatcheryproduced fish soon became the norm. …