North Carolina Biologist Recognized for Work to Recover Endangered Species

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Rachael Hoch with its Recovery Champion award, recognizing her significant contribution to the recovery of federally threatened or endangered animals.

For the past five years, Hoch has coordinated the state’s Conservation Aquaculture Center at the Marion Fish Hatchery, where she oversees the propagation and rearing of some of the rarest fish and mussels in the state. Inside a non-descript converted shed at the hatchery are racks filled with tubs of water, with a network of PVC pipe circulating purified water through the entire network. Hoch walks the aisles, pointing out the tub that has young endangered Appalachian elktoe mussels, destined to augment the population in Graham County’s Cheoah River. Another tub holds Carolina heelsplitters – a mussel so rare, she’s holding these to ensure North Carolina’s population doesn’t completely disappear even if wild populations disappear from the state’s rivers.

“When a plant or animal is placed on the endangered species list, the goal is to recover it so it no longer needs that protection,” said Jason Mays, aquatic biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Rachael’s work, along with the work of many wildlife commission staff, is key to that effort. The work done in Marion is really foundational to getting some of these animals off the endangered species list.”

Hoch’s work in mussel conservation began as a graduate student at Appalachian State University, producing mussels for her master’s thesis in the converted tool shed that would become the Conservation Aquaculture Center. After graduation, she became a technician at the newly-created center, and later became the Commission’s statewide coordinator for mussel propagation activities.

Not only has Hoch played a key role in developing the capabilities of the state’s Conservation Aquaculture Center, she’s been able to share the knowledge and experience gained with the Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery, helping them successfully start production of imperiled mussels. 

The award comes as the Commission is in the process of moving the aquaculture center, along with trout production, into a new facility at the Marion Hatchery, enabling them to expand their rare fish and mussel rearing and propagation efforts.