Federal and state officials relocate freshwater fish species

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — The unarmored threespine stickleback – an endangered fish species native to Southern California – has a new home, thanks to relocation efforts spearheaded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).

Researchers and scientists shifted the stickleback from the Santa Clarita Valley’s Soledad Canyon to Angeles National Forest, where, according to state and federal officials, the fish could potentially thrive in an environment more suitable than the Santa Clara River watershed.

In all 151 sticklebacks were “rescued” from Soledad Canyon and “released” into the Angeles National Forest in the past few weeks.

Tim Hovey, a DFW environmental scientist, said sticklebacks were threatened from the impending flow of ash and sentiment.

“Whenever you get something like that, you’re really concerned with ash, sediment and debris that will wash into the creek during even minimal precipitation or rain,” Hovey said. “We knew that either we immediately pull those fish out of there, or the next rain we get is going to wash debris and ash down there and threaten to kill them all.”

Sticklebacks were placed on the federal endangered species list, helping the freshwater fish earn full protection from the state of California. Officials said sticklebacks would remain on the endangered list due to a loss of suitable habitat.

“The fish do best in small clean pools in streams with constant water flow through the pool. Drought, coupled with water reallocation has steadily diminished suitable habitat for the fish, which is only two to three inches in length and breeds frequently,” FWS staff said in a released statement. “As an annual species the majority typically live for about one year.”

State and federal officials targeted the recovery of sticklebacks about 10 years ago. Representatives from DFW, FWS, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Forest Service collaborated on surveying the Santa Clara River watershed and developing a recovery plan.

Ash and sediment from the 2016 Sand Fire in nearby Santa Clarita helped create what federal and state officials identified as “a toxic environment for the fish” in the northern reaches of Los Angeles County.

Angeles National Forest was deemed to be the most suitable habitat for sticklebacks to recover, according to FWS and DFW officials.

Researchers and scientists are monitoring the transition of sticklebacks into their new habitat, in hopes the species would eventually become self-sustaining.

Tim Hovey/CDFW photo

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