Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program

Aerial photo of the San Joaquin Delta. (Photo: USFWS)

The Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose roots can be traced back to the U.S. Commission on Fish and Fisheries, has played a vital role in conserving America's fisheries since 1871. Today, the program is a key partner with States, Tribes, Federal agencies, other Service programs, and private interests in the larger effort to conserve fish and other aquatic resources.

The Program consists of almost 800 employees nationwide, with 70 National Fish Hatcheries, 9 Fish Health Centers, 7 Fish Technology Centers. These employees and facilities provide a network unique in its broad on-the-ground geographic coverage, its array of technical and managerial capabilities, and its ability to work across political boundaries and embrace a national perspective. The Program supports the only Federal hatchery system, with extensive experience culturing more than 100 different aquatic species.

The Pacific Southwest Region Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program oversees water and fish issues throughout California, Nevada and the Klamath Basin. Within this area, the Program focuses on the conservation and restoration of fish and aquatic ecosystems.

Photo Credit: FishBIO for USFWS

What We Do

The Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program works with partners to conserve and restore aquatic resources for the benefit of the American people. For more than 140 years, the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service has worked on the American landscape to address conservation challenges and protect, restore, and enhance the nation's fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. Within Pacific Southwest Region, the Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program is working to address the effects habitat loss and degradation, overharvest, invasive species introduction, and climate change have had on aquatic species. The region's goals are to conserve aquatic species, protect and restore aquatic habitats, manage the impact of invasive species, and help the federal government meet its mitigation and trust responsibilities.

Conserve Aquatic Resources

The aquatic ecosystems in the Pacific Southwest Region historically sustained unique and diverse communities of fish and other aquatic organisms, many of which, including salmon, trout, suckers, and lamprey, are important economic and cultural resources. However, aquatic species represent some of the most imperiled organisms in our region. There are many aquatic species listed under the Endangered Species Act, with many others protected by state law or listed as species of concern in state wildlife action plans. The Service's goal is to achieve and maintain sustainable populations of aquatic species. That means the agency is working to recover species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, such as winter-run Chinook salmon, Lahontan cutthroat trout, and cui-ui. The program also works to restore declining populations of other species and to prevent the decline of otherwise healthy populations by restoring habitat, controlling invasive species, and monitoring aquatic species survival and mortality.

Monitoring Lahontan cutthroat trout at Fallen Leaf Lake, south of Lake Tahoe, California. Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS

Protect and Restore Habitat

Today's water project operations are a necessary part of our life in the west. Projects such as California's Central Valley Project and Nevada's Newlands Project provide water essential for communities, industries, and agriculture. Unfortunately, habitat loss and degradation, primarily as a result of providing water for human uses, is one of the primary reasons for the decline of native species, along with invasive species.

Add in the issues of managing invasive species, non-point source pollution, and the effects of a changing climate, and the challenge of conserving aquatic habitat becomes increasingly complex.

We assess habitats and the habitat needs of species to develop landscape level conservation objectives. To achieve those objectives, we work with partners through Service Programs such as the National Fish Passage Program and the National Fish Habitat Action Plan to prioritize and implement conservation projects. These projects span the array of habitat issues and include removing barriers to fish migration, restoring spawning gravels and rearing habitats, screening water diversions, and helping farmers develop best practices that result in more water being left in streams and rivers.

In addition, we are working with our partners within Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to make the latest conservation science and technological tools available to all those working to conserve aquatic habitat.

Manage invasive species

The rapid growth of industry and transportation in the 19th and 20th centuries has led to a dramatic increase in the presence of invasive species across the landscape.

Litte Truckee River. Credit: USFWS

This is particularly true for aquatic systems where invasive species threaten the conservation of fish and other species and cause billions of dollars of economic impact.

We are working towards identifying high risk invasive species and their potential pathways for introduction and working with partners and industry to develop both regulatory and voluntary mechanisms to reduce the risk of introduction of invasive species. Where we have known populations of invasive species, we are developing and executing plans to contain the risk of spread, minimize their impact on native aquatic species and habitats, and, in some cases, eradicate invasive species populations.

Fulfill Mitigation and Tribal Trust Responsibilities

In our region, federal water projects have had a major impact to fish and other aquatic species. Where the federal government has a responsibility to mitigate for the effect of water project operations, the Service is helping other agencies fulfill their mitigation responsibilities. We produce millions of salmon and hundreds of thousands of steelhead to support commercial and recreational fisheries.

We monitor fish populations in the Bay-Delta and Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to help project operators minimize their impact on fish and aquatic species. In California, Nevada, and southern Oregon, the federal government has trust responsibilities to help manage fish and fisheries for use by tribes. In northern California, we work with the Hoopa and Yurok tribes to assess salmon populations and survey for disease in support of tribal fisheries.

In Nevada, we are working with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to restore self-sustaining native fish to Pyramid Lake and the Truckee River. And, in the Klamath Basin of Oregon, we are working with the Klamath Tribes to investigate the decline and restore populations of native suckers.


Bay-Delta Conservation Plan
Formerly called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, this key Bay-Delta project was revised in April 2015 into two separate efforts: 1) California Water Fix, which will include the construction of the North Delta Diversions and water conveyance facilities; and 2) California EcoRestore, which will be focused on restoring 30,000 acres of habitat in the Delta.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with other federal and state agencies, environmental organizations, fishery agencies, water agencies, and other organizations to develop the plan. More information can be found on the California Natural Resources Agency website.

Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA)
The Service's CVPIA Program focuses on the conservation and restoration of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Watersheds and Delta, and the Trinity River Watershed. Particular emphasis is focused on increasing populations of anadromous fish and providing water to wildlife refuges. Project Implementation Division links:

Habitat Restoration Program
Refuge Water Supply and Conveyance Programs
Anadromous Fish Screen Program
Title 34, Public Law 102-575, Central Valley Project Improvement Act

Links to CVPIA Programs:

CVPIA Comprehensive Assessment and Monitoring Program (CAMP)
Anadromous Fish Restoration Program

San Joaquin River Restoration Program
The San Joaquin River Restoration Program (SJRRP) is a comprehensive long-term effort to return water flows to the San Joaquin River from Friant Dam to its confluence with the Merced River for the purpose of restoring self-sustaining Chinook salmon populations in the river.

Trinity River Restoration
The Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office provides technical, planning and adminstrative assistance for the Trinity River Restoration Program.

Aquatic Invasive Species Program
Providing technical assistance to limit the spread of aquatic invasives: Lodi Fish and Wildlife Office.

National Fish Passage Program
National Fish Passage Program (NFPP) is a voluntary, non-regulatory initiative that provides funding and technical assistance to reconnect aquatic habitats.

National Fish Habitat Partnership
The National Fish Habitat Partnership (NFHAP) is a national investment strategy to maximize the impact of conservation dollars on the ground. Under NFHAP, Federal, State, Tribal, and privately-raised funds are leveraged through regional partnerships to address the nation's biggest fish habitat challenges.