Extreme temperatures and lack of rainfall are causing million of Pacific Northwest fish to die in overheated water. So far, about 1.5 million young fish in hatcheries have been lost to these harsh conditions.
Climate conditions have forced wild life preservation agencies to limit the amount of fish that can be caught in the Washington area. For example, sockeye salmon, a small breed of fish, are no longer free to hunt. The sockeye salmon population has seen severe declines in recent months, and losses are in the hundreds of thousands. These fish were likely returning from the ocean to spawn.
USA Today reports that water temperatures in the Columbia river reached the low 70s in early July. Water temperatures don’t usually reach that temperature until August, if at all. In addition to the heat, drought has made water levels decrease. As temperatures continue to rise, and droughts still affect the area, more and more fish are likely to die. The deaths are likely caused from a bacterial infections known as columnaris, which is caused by high water temperatures or low levels of oxygen.
If the fish population continues to diminish, it could create a massive effect on the local fishing community. Fishing supports more than 828,000 jobs, and many fishing workers rely on these fish to make a living. Many of the fishing streams along the Washington Cascades have been closed due to fish trauma, disease, and death.
“When the streams get too warm, first are stressed and as a result the fishing goes down fast,” says Rick Hargrave, an administrator at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
As fish become sick from the heat, they’ll attempt to retreat into cooler, deeper waters. As of now, there is no estimate to when the heatwave will end, or how it will affect the overall fish population.