Fish & Habitats– Fish Species

From lampreys to sturgeon, the fish of British Columbia are as diverse as their body forms and life histories.

Native Fish

British Columbia contains a diverse and dynamic, sometimes rapidly evolving fish community. The province was almost completely covered by a layer of ice only about 10,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene Ice Ages. As the glacial ice melted and retreated, it provided opportunities for fish surviving in ice-free areas to move into new habitat. Some early colonizers became isolated from other populations by waterfall barriers as the land rose upward after the weight of the ice was removed. Since much of B.C. has been colonized for such a short period, it is often not clear what is a species, a subspecies or a distinct population. However, since relatively few freshwater species were able to move into our area before dispersal routes were cut off, much of our natural diversity occurs at the population level rather than the species level. (For example: coastal rainbow trout, Kamloops trout, Gerrard trout and steelhead are all considered the same species even though they appear very different.) We currently recognize 81 distinct Native Freshwater Fishes including species and subspecies; some have not been scientifically described and named. Four species are now extinct.

Native species are populations that are known to have existed at a site prior to the influence of humans.

See the B.C. Fish Facts factsheets for pictures and information on 20 of our native freshwater fishes.

Introduced Fish

img0054.jpgIn British Columbia we are the stewards of a unique natural biological heritage. In the past, high value was placed on a limited number of species of special commercial or recreational use. There has been a growing concern with conservation and the maintenance of biodiversity over the last two decades. Current fisheries managers recognize the need for healthy natural aquatic ecosystems to support a variety of recreational opportunities and to maintain options for future generations of our citizens.

img0056.jpg The release of species into ecosystems where they do not occur naturally is a risky activity. The outcome can be unpredictable and undesirable. This is because we do not understand all the interactions between species. We do know that in order to coexist the species within a community have adapted to live together and the introduction of a new species can cause the system to collapse. Undesirable results have occurred from the release of new species to British Columbia’s waters. Examples include: 1) the unlawful introduction of a catfish (Ameriurus nebulosus) in Hadley Lake brought about the extinction of a unique pair of sticklebacks; and 2) the introduction of opossum shrimp (Mysis relicta) to Kootenay Lake (in an attempt to improve growth in small rainbow trout) contributed to the collapse of the kokanee stock (reducing the food supply and survival of larger rainbow). There are Introduced Freshwater Fishes in all regions of the province.


To find out more about fish in B.C. visit the British Columbia Fishwizard and for fish from around the world, Fishbase is a global information system that has some great fish photos!