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Reservoirs have become man-made fish habitats and could be key to conservation efforts

Dozens of carp are crammed together in a section of a reservoir as a child on the left leans over to feed them.
Gabriel Cassan
Adobe Stock
A child feeds carp at Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in Nevada and Arizona.

A new study looks into how many fish are in reservoirs across the U.S., and what role these ecosystems could play in conservation and food security.

A new study looks into how many fish are in reservoirs across the U.S., and what role these ecosystems could play in conservation and food security.

For decades, dams have been built on most major rivers, creating thousands of man-made reservoirs – and fish habitats. In fact, 7.7 billion pounds of fish are being held in the nation’s reservoirs, according to a study from the University of California, Davis that was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers found that most states have a fish stock of at least 220 million pounds. Texas leads the country with more than 700 million pounds of fish, followed by Arkansas with about 440 million pounds.

In the Mountain West, Idaho and New Mexico each have around 220 million pounds of fish in their reservoirs. Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada are just below that mark, and Utah has about half that amount.

Nationwide, these fish-filled reservoirs need to be better managed, said Christine Parisek, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. candidate in the UC Davis Ecology Graduate Group.

“We should continue to take down dysfunctional dams, we're not saying that reservoirs are a good thing,” Parisek said. “But given our uncertain future, we should also think about how these ecosystems might serve as important habitats for conservation or for food resources for people.”

She said because climate change is wiping out some fish populations in their native habitats, reservoirs could be all that is left to support some fish species.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.