Fishes of the Santa Ana River System
1917: 84 Years Ago
George B. Culver & Carl L. Hubbs

Compiled by
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Sierra Club & Wetlands Action Network

1917 Excerpted Article
We present below a list of the species of fish occurring in the coastal streams of California from the Malibu to the San Luis Rey. These streams form what may be known as the Santa Ana System, as they contain the same species, though at present several of the streams are not connected with each other. The species are few, but the individuals are numerous.

1. Entosphenus tridentatus (Gairdner).
The large eel-like lamprey runs up the Santa Ana River to spawn. We found the eye-less worm-like larvae of lampreys in the mud along Los Angeles River.

2. Notolepidomyzon santa-anae (Snyder).
The Santa Ana Sucker was described in 1908 from specimens collected at Riverside. We have found it in Rio Hondo, Los Angeles River, and Arroyo Seco. The larger suckers in the upper San Gabriel are probably of this species.

3. Richardsonius orcutti (Eigenmann and Eigenmann).
The abundant southern California Minnow has been recorded from Temecula, San Luis Rey, San Jacinto, and Santa Ana Rivers, while our specimens come from Santa Ana River, San Gabriel River, Rio Hondo, Los Angeles River, Arroyo Seco, Ballona Creek, and Malibu Creek.

4. Agosia nubila carringtonii (Cope).
Spring minnows, apparently of this form, occur in the Santa Ana River. They can be told from the other minnows by their smaller scales and sharper snout, which projects a little beyond the mouth.

5. Salmo irideus Gibbons. The Steelhead trout runs into some or all of the streams of the Santa Ana System. The land-locked individuals of the mountain streams are known as Rainbow Trout.

6. Salmo evermanni Jordan and Grinnell.
A fine-scaled trout described from the headwaters of the South Fork of the Santa Ana River.

7. Gasterosteus cataphractus williamsoni Girard.
The smooth-sided Stickleback of the Santa Ana System is abundant everywhere.

Reflections & Observations
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek

Please note that the Lorquin Natural History Club was founded in 1913 in Los Angeles and published a monthly magazine called Lorquinia. "Fishes of the Ana River System" was published in volume 1, pages 83-84. Naturalists and scientists led monthly field trips for the public that were focused on education, science, hiking, and exploring nature around Los Angeles. It was a "Progressive Era" attempt to educate the citizens about the natural and wild beauty that is in the greater Los Angeles region. Those citizens of 80-100 years ago, cared about education, families, quality of life, and liveable cities. It is always good to see what interested citizens, as it was documented by the Los Angeles Natural History Club. In this case, in 1917, the automobile and airplane had just arrived in Los Angeles. Most of the roads were dirt and airplanes used dirt air-fields. The streams were still fairly natural. The Los Angeles River, Ballona Creek, Malibu Creek, Topanga Creek, San Gabriel River, Santa Clara River, Santa Ana River, and Santa Margarita River, were linked together by a similar freshwater fish in those stream systems. Today, these watersheds can still be termed the Santa Ana System, from a biogeographic perpspective. Today we list six native freshwater fish as resident, or "watery fish citizens" if you will, of the Los Angeles region. The 1917 report listed seven species, but Salmo evermanni is not considered a valid species.

Today, in 2001, 84 years after 1917, science has changed some of the scientific names and common names of the six fish that George Culver and Carl Hubbs described in their article. For example, the scientific name of Agosia nubila carringtonii has become Rhinichthys osculus. Similarly, the common name has changed rom Spring Minnow to Santa Ana Speckled Dace. Dr. Camm Swift, in his 1993 report, has identified the Speckled Dace as "one of the rarest native freshwater fish in coastal southern California." The State of California under Governor Gray Davis continues to consider it a "state taxon of special concern." The Speckled Dace needs to be placed on the Endangered Species List. As late as 1939, it still occurred in Los Angeles near North Hollywood. It undoubtedly also occurred in Malibu Creek and Ballona Creek and Topanga Creek. Today, remnant populations hold onto a precarious existence on the upper San Gabriel River in the Angeles National Forest. It would be a wonderful project to restore and recover Speckled Dace to the Los Angeles River, Ballona Creek, Malibu Creek, and Topanga Creek. There needs to be a recovery plan for the Speckled Dace, but this will only occur if it is put on the U.S. Endangered Species List. Let us embrace the "Center for Biological Diversity" to sue the new U.S. Secretary of Interior, to put the Speckled Dace population of the Los Angeles region on the "List."

Today, in 2001, Arroyo Chub is the name for the "Southern California Minnow." The scientific name of Arroyo Chub is now Gila orcutti, and is no longer in the genus Richardsonius. In the 1917 report, Arroyo Chub was listed as abundant in Malibu Creek, Ballona Creek, Arroyo Seco, and Los Angeles River. Camm Swift in his authoritative monograph of 1993 reports that the Arroyo Chub is a "State of California special concern species." Dr. Swift tells us it is found at only three localities now (two places in Orange County and in Malibu Creek). Yet, how much longer can it persist in Malibu Creek with treated sewage of Calabasas and new sewage from the proposed Ahmanson estate homes going into Malibu Creek is a question not asked? Research must be conducted on the Arroyo Chub in Malibu Creek immediately, particularly of how to increase its numbers, so that it can be used as a source of fish for recovery in other streams of Los Angeles. The Arroyo Chub must also be placed on the Endangered Species List.

Today, in 2001, the Pacific Lamprey barely holds on to a home in the Los Angeles region, being found in only one remaining watershed: Malibu. In 1917, scientists named it Entosphenus tridentatus, but today it is Lampetra pacifica. In 1917, it was common as evidenced by the 1917 quote: "The large eel-like lamprey runs up the Santa Ana River to spawn. We found the eye-less worm-like larvae of lampreys in the mud along Los Angeles River." In 1930, it was still found in the Los Angeles River at Griffith Park. In 1943-1944, the Lamprey still occurred in the San Gabriel Rivernear San Jose Creek. In 1955, the Lamprey was found on the Santa Ana River above the Prado Dam, but not below it. These records come from the fine report by Dr. Camm Swift.

Today, in 2001, 84 years after 1917, the "Smooth-sided Stickleback" is known as the Unarmored Threespine Stickleback. In 1917, Culver & Hubbs said that the Stickleback was "abundant everywhere." Today the Stickleback is very rare and is on the Endangered Species List. Let us hope that the Stickleback can be returned to its former rivers and creeks in Los Angeles County. Some of the watersheds to bring it back to would include: Malibu, Topanga, Santa Monica, Ballona, Los Angeles, Arroyo Seco, Rio Hondo, and San Gabriel.

Today, in 2001, the scientific name of the Santa Ana Sucker has changed from the 1917 name of Notolepidomyzon santa-anae, to Catastomus santaanae. It has gone from being common in 1917 when it was known in Rio Hondo, Arroyo Seco, Los Angeles River and Santa Ana River, to now in 2001, only occurring in two places (Santa Ana River and Santa Clara River). Undoubtedly, in 1917, it would have also occurred in Ballona Creek, Topanga Creek, Malibu Creek, and the San Gabriel River, and could be recovered to these stream systems again in the future.

Today, in 2001, the Steelhead is endangered but still occurs in the Malibu-Topanga region. The scientific name of the Steelhead in 1917 was Salmo irideus, but today it is Oncorhynchus mykiss. In 1917, the Steelhead had "runs into some or all of the streams of the Santa Ana System." Today, in 2001, only the Malibu watershed has the legal protection of "endangered species" for Steelhead. Yet, in the last two years, Steelhead have been documented in Topanga Creek and San Diego/Orange County, but outside the "endangered species protection boundary." The U.S. Endangered Species Act allows for enlargement of the recovery plan to include the watershed between Malibu and San Diego County. It would then also include the watersheds of Ballona Creek, Los Angeles River, San Gabriel River, and Santa Ana River. Politics, thus far is preventing any embracing of the expansion of Steehead protection.

Today, in 2001, 84 years after 1917, it is abundantly clear that the Santa Ana River System is imperiled, but it has the opportunity to be restored and recovered such that Steelhead, Sucker, Stickleback, Dace, Chub, and Lamprey can reside in all of our rivers and creeks again. Lawsuits are still needed to to have the Speckled Dace and Arroyo Chub listed as "endangered species."

Today, in 2001, 84 years after 1917, opportunities for restoration and recovering abound. Opportunities waiting to happen. Time will tell! Humans have only been putting a massive cover of cement and asphalt over our soils and streams, beginning about 60-80 years ago. In Los Angeles, the "U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" is the main culprit in association with local government. "Healthy Nature" enthusiasts and "Liveable City" advocates at the Sierra Club, Wetlands Action Network, and CalPIRG, have joined forces to take on the Engineers at the U.S. Army. There is a "Federal Appeals Case" in front of the UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT over the NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT (NEPA). Local government officials, both County and City, had better take note of these lawsuits as well. Citizens want "Nature" back in our cities, beginning with rivers and creeks, the fishes that live there, and the wildlife that feed upon them, such as the American Bald Eagle and Great Blue Heron.

Abolishing the "Army Engineers" as an agency will not work, but lessening its power in civilian matters in Los Angeles is a proper goal. As we replace this federal agency of the "Army Engineers," we need to elevate other federal agencies such as the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and USFWS (Fish & Wildlife Service) to take the lead in open space, liveable cities, wetlands delineations, and nature protection in Los Angeles.

And we need more Parks managed in a natural way. The ecological and logical choice is CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS. Their influence is increasing in Los Angeles. New State Parks at Topanga, Chino Hills, Baldwin Hills, Los Angeles River, Ballona Wetlands, and elsewhere in the Los Angeles region, show that the California State Parks is now here in a big way. The fish and nature in general now have a geography of hope again, if we, the citizens of the Los Angeles region, embrace the California State Parks with a long overdue, WELCOME, WE NEED YOU! Please buy more land for State Parks.