January 5, 2004
Only 10,000 yellowcheek darters survive in the headwater streams of the Little Red River in Arkansas, now the fish’s its only known habitat. As a result, the 3-inch-long, brown-colored fish has been made a candidate for listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered or threatened species. Since the early 1980's, the yellowcheek darter’s population has declined dramatically from 60,000 individuals to its present known population size. In an effort to recover this fish, Wal-Mart and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have initiated captive propagation efforts at the Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery in Heber Springs, Arkansas.
The Wal-Mart in Heber Springs recently donated a 36-tank, aquarium system from its Pet Department. The system includes 36 twenty-gallon aquaria supported on two racks, two pumps, a chiller, a heater, and all the plumbing, wiring, and lights. The estimated value of the entire system is $15,000.
“Wal-Mart’s generous donation makes it possible for us to collect yellowcheek darters and begin captive propagation efforts, ” said Sherri Shoults, manager of Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery. “The timing was great too. These darters breed once a year during late May through June, and its important to have them acclimated to their artificial surroundings before spring.”
Currently the hatchery is housing 23 yellowcheek darters inside the aquarium system that mimics conditions within their natural habitat. The fish are fed a diet of blackworms, bloodworms, and other natural or frozen foods.
“The Heber Springs Wal-Mart is proud of what we can do for our community,” said Donna White, manager of the Pet Department.
The Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery is working with the Norfolk National Fish Hatchery in Mountain Home, Arkansas and Conservation Fisheries, Inc., a non-profit organization in Knoxville, Tennessee, to rear these rare darters in captivity. They are also educating local communities about the importance of watershed management. Eventually, the darters raised in captivity will be reintroduced into the upper reaches of each stream where they were once abundant.
Although historically the yellowcheek darter was found throughout the length of the Little Red River headwaters to below the tailwaters of Greers Ferry Lake, the construction of the Greers Ferry Dam in 1964 flooded most of this darter’s habitat. This fish needs swift water conditions and can’t thrive in reservoir or pool environments or in the cold tailwaters below the dam Since most of its former habitat is unsuitable, the yellowcheek darter is restricted to the Middle, South, Archey, and Turkey Forks of the Little Red River. Other factors contributing to the population decline of the yellowcheek darter include low yearly rainfall amounts, drought, and water pollution.
“This fish is an integral part of our natural heritage and should be protected for future generations,” said Shoults. “Early conservation efforts may reduce the need to list the species as threatened or endangered, and this benefits the citizens of Arkansas.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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