Thousands of Fish Dying in Western United States After Drought, Heat Allow Parasite to Thrive

by Jon D. B.

“The pain we’re going to feel is a few years from now,” but the Western U.S.’s unprecedented drought is already claiming casualties.

America’s great frontier is suffering. It’s a tragic thought for any Outsider, but a harsh reality for those living in the West.

Currently, baby salmon are “dying by the thousands” in California rivers – the latest fallout from the regions crippling drought. If it keeps up, entire runs of endangered salmon species could disappear forever – which holds dire consequences for nature and man. Which this Outsider would argue are one and the same.

“The pain we’re going to feel is a few years from now, when there will be no naturally spawned salmon out in the ocean,” says executive director of the Golden State Salmon Association, John McManus, representing the fishing industry out west.

Extreme heat wave after extreme heat wave continue to push western states to the brink of catastrophe. Or, as spokeswoman for the California Department of Wildlife and Fish Jordan Traverso puts it:

“An extreme set of cascading climate events is pushing us into this crisis situation.”

As with all systems in nature, once one piece of the chain suffers – the rest follow. For the salmon, low water levels from the drought are allowing parasites to thrive. They multiply in the millions in hot conditions, killing off salmon in droves.

So far, the consequences have devastated one Native American tribe local to Northern California’s Klamath River. Everything from their diet to traditions link directly to the river’s salmon. Now, wildlife officials are saying the Sacramento River, too, faces “a near-complete loss” of Chinook salmon in these conditions.

California’s salmon fishing industry could be next – which is worth $1.4 billion in the state alone.

Drought in the West Could Spell End of Salmon Species

Consumers are already feeling the affects of this at $35 per pound of salmon, per ABC News. One local fisherman of more than 25 years, Mike Hudson, tells the outlet that “it’s going to get worse from here.”

Hudson is considering calling it quits with the sale of his 40-foot boat because of the drought. In the past, the fisherman saw ” days at sea when the salmon season was longer and could catch 100 fish per day.” In 2021, he says he was lucky to harvest 80 total fish to market.

“Retiring would be the smart thing to do, but I can’t bring myself to do it because these fish have been so good to us for all these years,” Hudson tells ABC News. “I can’t just walk away from it.”

“We know that climate change is going to make years like this more common, and what the agencies should be doing is managing for the worst-case scenario,” echoes Sam Mace, director of Save Our Wild Salmon.

“We need some real changes in how rivers are managed if they’re going to survive,” she continues.

Which is absolutely true, as federal fisheries predict a loss of more than 80% of baby salmon in the Sacramento River this summer. California wildlife officials state the number could potentially be even higher.

The state’s largest reservoir, Lake Shasta, sits at around 35% capacity this week.

“We’re at the point where I’m not sure drought is appropriate term to describe what’s happening,” says Andrew Rypel, fish ecologist for the University of California, Davis.