In 1993, the Oregon chub was placed on the endangered species list after only 1,000 of the small fish were found to remain in eight wetland areas in the state’s Willamette River Basin. It was a dramatic turn toward extinction for a fish species that was once found in the millions. However, conservation efforts have improved the prognosis of the Oregon chub just as dramatically.
On February 18, 2015, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Oregon chub has been removed from both the endangered species and threatened species lists. It’s a historic moment, as it is the first species of fish to ever be delisted by the USFWS because of its recovery.
The Oregon chub is similar to a minnow. It’s a small fish — adults only grow to about 3.5 inches long — and is characterized by olive markings on its back. They are only found in wetlands of the Willamette River Basin in western Oregon and feed on the larvae of mosquitos and other water-borne invertebrates.
Human control over the Willamette River changed the Oregon chub’s ability to survive in side channels, marshes, ponds and other aquatic areas caused by overflow of the river. Damming and building of flood control projects stopped the river from overflowing, which had the consequence of eliminating a means of transportation for the Oregon chub to move to new habitats. Chemical spills, runoff from farms and logging operations and the introduction of non-native fish and amphibians into the environment also contributed to the decline the Oregon chub’s population.
The USFWS introduced a plan in 1998 to increase the number of Oregon chub in the wild. Among the key elements to the plan were:
Protecting populations of the species by restoring water flows and floodplains while improving the quality of existing waterways.
- Stocking Oregon chub in private ponds to increase their population before introducing them back into the wild.
- Increasing public awareness on the plight of the species.
The multi-pronged approach has paid dividends in increasing the population of the Oregon chub. More than 150,000 fish are now thriving in 80 locations throughout the Willamette River Basin. Wildlife officials now feel confident that the conservations measures currently in place will be enough to allow the Oregon chub to continue to grow and thrive on its own.
The Oregon chub is the first of several fish species which could be removed from protection through the Endangered Species Act. Species of trout and suckers have also grown in recent years thanks to conservation efforts. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife told Reuters that the fact the the Oregon chub is not fished commercially and can be protected with minimal inconvenience to private landowners are two reasons why its recovery was so successful