Trout Unlimited Identifies Hundreds of Highly Threatened Fisheries Across the U.S.

Fisheries biologists monitors water quality in California.
A TU biologist monitors water quality in a tributary of the Klamath River in California.

Trout Unlimited (TU) is shedding new light on at-risk fisheries across the county. A new map from the fishing-focused conservation group identifies more than 200 watersheds—sorted by state—that are considered "priority waters" for coldwater fish in a warming world.

A vintage cover of Field & Stream magazine with a spaniel holding a pheasant.
A vintage cover of Field & Stream magazine with a spaniel holding a pheasant.

The Priority Waters project analyzed the most at-risk trout and salmon rivers nationwide. The pinpointed waterways are considered threatened because they need more protection from government entities, TU says, or because they're in need of significant restoration work. Genetic diversity and climate resilience were also factored in.

“We are not only improving rivers and streams,” Chris Wood, TU president and CEO stated. “But also creating healthy fisheries, promoting clean water, building climate resiliency, creating high paying family-wage jobs, and leveraging public and private dollars to make an impact in our local communities.”

Priority waters pock the country from coast to coast. In California, the most prominent priority water is the Klamath River, where the largest dam removal project in U.S. history started in January. When the river’s four dams are fully breeched, a century of inaccessible salmon and steelhead country will open up. Habitat restoration is key to that effort with seed plantings already happening as crews chip away at the dams.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Mike Belchik, Yurok Tribe senior policy advisor recently told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “I don’t know why we had such confidence that it was going to happen, but we did. We always knew it would happen.”

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In the east, TU has prioritized the Battenkill River, which flows through in Vermont and Upstate New York. In Utah, the focus is on reconnecting Great Salt Lake tributaries. The list also includes such iconic fisheries as Alaska's Bristol Bay, the Clark Fork River in Montana, and the entire Colorado River Basin. According to TU, the more than $100 million in funding needed to restore and reconnect these waterways will come from federal infrastructure dollars.