Shiner Stocking Both Historical and Successful
March 2, 2016
Hatchery manager David Hendrix braved the cold water to make sure these special fish were handled with care. Photo by Bruce Hallman/USFWS.
Because the small town of Neosho, Missouri, houses a national fish hatchery where imperiled fish are being raised, we get to be right on the forefront of the fight against extinction. This summer we were able to successfully spawn and raise the federally endangered Topeka Shiner (Notropis topeka) in our spring-water raceways. And, in early December, we were able to put into the wild about 2,200 young fish that were reared for the first time in a federal fish hatchery!
While this may sound straightforward, whenever a protected species is being raised or transported, everything has to work seamlessly. Unlike operations involving poachers and dangerous bad guys, our stocking trip was not without a bit of excitement. As we were on the road, hauling the precious cargo in a gooseneck trailer, conversations were frantically going on to make sure all the transfers took place without stressing the fish. Two research facilities, one at the University of Minnesota and the other with the U.S. Geological Survey, had requested some of our shiners for critical studies to help better understand their environmental needs.
Timing the transport and moving the priceless shiners couldn’t have happened without the help of many of our valued partners. All the many moving pieces involved were finally coming together on this single day in December. From paperwork, permits, facility preparations, transport plans, and scheduling to weather, came this one crucial moment for our precious cargo. As we met with a Missouri Department of Conservation contact near the Iowa border in northern Missouri, just minutes away from meeting with the Minnesota researcher, all of the wandering came to an end and we were able to move our fish along. Whew!
With that drama behind us, it was time to stock the bulk of our fish into the wild. Two prairie streams were chosen, branches that historically have maintained populations of this rare little fish. One of the streams was on the Pawnee Prairie Natural Area, a 476-acre plot managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and the other on a neighboring 443 acres owned by The Nature Conservancy. Both streams are part of the East Fork Big Muddy Creek in northwest Missouri and are kept from summer drying with the help of resident beavers and their dam constructions. With each site getting roughly half of our remaining cargo, we finally drained out our tanks as the last light of the day was draining from the sky. It took all day to travel, meet up with various agency representatives, travel some more to the stream site, and finally head back toward Neosho.
When dealing with protected species and our other important natural resources, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t mess around as it takes on a wide range of work. Sometimes it includes dealing with illegal trade and intercepting of packages with imperiled plant or animal specimens. Other times it includes confiscating live animals, or fighting wildfires, tracking down poachers or destroying illegal ivory products – all involving a various mix of potentially hazardous circumstances. Still other operations focus on controlling plants or animals that have taken over new locations – such as invasive species that outcompete native life and become a nuisance.
Given the responsibility of managing and following the guidelines of the Endangered Species Act since its signing in 1973, the Service’s aim is to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction. The Service’s National Fish Hatchery System works in many different ways to help recover, restore, and reintroduce those species that it can with the goal of delisting them as soon as possible. Huge successes have been seen with such varied wildlife as the bald eagle, whooping crane, black-footed ferret, grizzly bear and gray whale. Currently, the Service has listed 490 animals (including 92 fish) and 732 plant species as endangered, with others being considered all the time. There is a lengthy petition period where the public and scientific communities can contribute to the process.
Being a part of the solution for this world’s troubled wildlife is a wonderful privilege. Even if our contribution featured here only involved a little minnow to some, it is critical to understand the big picture when it comes to biodiversity and our global ecological responsibilities. Every species has its place – life is like a giant Jenga game. The game with the stack of wooden blocks that are removed one at a time. We don’t want to be around when nature’s Jenga stack comes crashing down. We want to make sure it stays healthy, strong and standing with as many of its original blocks intact as possible.
Thanks to the efforts of the Neosho National Fish Hatchery in 2015, we just made that environmental stack of blocks a little harder to topple. Not a bad effort for such a little fish raised in a little southwest Missouri town!