Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

May 1, 2002
Contact: David Hogan, Center for Biological Diversity, 760 782-9244
More Information: Native Trout Campaign



Efforts to protect southern California steelhead and stream habitat received a major boost today when the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service listed the species as endangered in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. The decision follows years of work by groups to improve protections for the southernmost population of steelhead, including a lawsuit filed by 7 fishing and environmental groups in December 2000, another threatened lawsuit in February 2002 and discovery of the species in a stream south of Los Angeles where it was previously thought extinct.

The Fisheries Service listed Southern steelhead as an endangered species in August of 1997. But the agency arbitrary excluded from the listing any steelhead found south of Malibu Creek, Los Angeles County, and upstream of several dams. In so doing the agency disregarded the recommendations of it's own scientists who pointed out the importance of habitat above the dams and historic distribution of the species at least to the Mexican border. The agency also ignored a duty to designate critical habitat, necessary for identifying and increasing protections for streams considered essential for survival and recovery of the species.

Less than one year later, college student Toby Shakleford discovered fish in San Mateo Creek that were later confirmed by geneticists as southern steelhead. San Mateo Creek is located on the border of Orange and San Diego counties and south of the then-listed range of the species.

Frustrated by agency inaction nearly two years after the San Mateo Creek discovery, seven groups led by the Center, California Trout and the Environmental Defense Center filed suit in December 2000 over the Fisheries Service's failure to protect the San Mateo Creek fish, steelhead located above dams, and critical habitat.

The Fisheries Service's action today resolves one problem, but the group's lawsuit will proceed over the agency's failure to protect steelhead upstream of dams and to designate critical habitat.

Southern California steelhead are a distinct population of a species which occurs from Alaska to northern Baja California. Much like salmon of the Pacific Northwest, steelhead spent most of their adult life in the ocean, returning to rivers to spawn. Headwater streams in southern California mountains and foothills provide spawning habitat and shelter juvenile fish. Estuaries provide habitat where steelhead adapt to saltier water before migrating into the ocean. Coastal rivers and streams serve as migration corridors between the headwaters and ocean. Tens of thousands of the prized sport fish once returned from the Pacific Ocean every year to spawn in southern California streams and rivers. Dams and urban development have since decimated steelhead runs and today only a few hundred fish remain.

Groups filing the lawsuit include California Trout, the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Center, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Heal the Bay, Institute for Fisheries Resources and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations.


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