Category Archives: Conservation

How High Do Fish Jump?

Fish Jump by Debbie Kay

There are a number of videos and stories about the way that salmon and trout can muscle their way upstream and leap up waterfalls.  But how high do fish jump?  For many species, we don’t yet know the answer.  For others, there is some good science available.  Here is a look of some of the best known salmonids and the information we have on their ability to leap waterfalls in a single bound: Continue reading How High Do Fish Jump?

Yukon’s Teslin Tlingit Tribe Celebrates Chinook Harvest in 17 Years

Tlingit Tribe Celebrates Chinook by Debbie Kay

For the Teslin Tlingit, there is not a single child who has ever seen a traditional chinook harvest.  This is because the tribe, in order to try and save this resource, went on a fishing hiatus in order to give the fish time to repopulate.  Now, the tribe’s youngest legal adults will get to witness the first fish taken since they were babies, and the children are going to see the first fish of their lifetime taken.  This is not only a return of a critical species to the habitat and an important food source, but the spiritual heart of this tribe. Continue reading Yukon’s Teslin Tlingit Tribe Celebrates Chinook Harvest in 17 Years

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non-native invasive species – the threat

Non-native invasive species by Sean Obrien

One of the biggest threats to our local environments is the threat and introduction of non-native invasive species. In fact, it is the second biggest threat to native species behind only habitat destruction. These unwanted guests can decimate populations of essential species of plant and animal life in specific areas, and cause untold damage to the future of our biodiversity. Although there are numerous laws and regulations regarding the introduction of non-native species to an environment, it still happens frequently. And in the case of some areas, the damage is far too great to be undone. Continue reading non-native invasive species – the threat

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Alabama Sturgeon – a Soap Opera Moment

Alabama Scientists Use e-DNA to Discover Signs of Sturgeon Presumed Extinct

Alabama Sturgeon by Debbie Kay

Alabama Scientists are having a real soap opera moment, as one of their indigenous species of fish, presumed extinct, may have been found alive.  The Alabama sturgeon is considered one of the rarest freshwater fish on the planet, and has not been seen alive since 2007.  However, scientists doing work in its home range of the Mobile Basin have now found evidence that it continues, elusively, to live in the area through recent environmental DNA sample collections.

About the Alabama Sturgeon

The Alabama sturgeon, Scaphirhynchus suttkusi, is a small, yellow-orange species of sturgeon that lives exclusively in the Mobile Basin of the Alabama River.  It grows to about 30 inches in size, and lives 12 to 20 years.  In 1993, the state and federal protection program for the once-populous Alabama sturgeon began.  This species had evaded identification until 1991, and were once believed to be the young of the more common gulf sturgeon. By the time the fish were shown to be genetically unique, their numbers had declined so much due to the impacts of several dams in the watershed that there was a question whether any effort at all could save them.  Since protection efforts were considered to be a large and expensive change for much of the river’s industries, there was a battle between the businesses and environmentalists whether to take protection measures at all.

Protection was difficult to verify, as only three individual sturgeon were actually captured and held in hand within ten years.  The last known fish, a male, was tagged in 2006 with a radio tracker, with the hopes that it would lead scientists to a larger breeding population.  Unfortunately, that did not happen before the transmitter died in 2007.

The Rediscovery

Scientists recently collected 130 environmental DNA samples along the length of the Alabama River and found that approximately 17 percent of the samples had Alabama sturgeon DNA.  This means that the fish were in the area within the past 8 to 40 days, based on the average rate of DNA breakdown in the area. This means the fish is present, but it has not been seen.

As these locations are narrowed down, scientists plan to do more extensive surveys on the areas that get continued “hits” during eDNA sampling.  Fish collection/viewing can be done via snorkeling, dewatering, or backpack electrofishing.  If they find fish in any number, this may be an opportunity There is currently a hatchery-assisted breeding plan for the Alabama sturgeon that sits on the law books if the state manages to locate and secure some breeding pairs of fish.  To locate a pair (or hopefully more than one) would allow an opportunity to begin adding fish to more areas, and to better study individuals to understand the specific environmental factors they need to thrive.  This can lead to smarter management decisions in the future to truly bring this elusive fish species its heroic return from the dead.

Hatcheries Stocking Alligator Gar to Combat Carp

Illinois Hatcheries Stocking Alligator Gar to Combat Carp by Debbie Kay

The state of Illinois has a monster carp problem.  What better way to fight a monster than with a bigger monster?  So goes the logic, as the state’s hatcheries gear up to begin stocking alligator gar in many of the state’s rivers that have invasive fish problems.  Though the fish are native to Illinois, they have not been seen in the state’s waters since 1966.  Their return is hoped not only to curb the growing carp population with one of the few native predators, but to return a major trophy fish to Illinois waters.

About Alligator Gar

Alligator gar are one of the most ancient species still living today, with fossil records of these fish dating back to over 100 million years ago.   They can grow up to ten feet long and weigh up to 300lbs.  From the 1930’s to the 1980’s, they were considered “trash fish” and a detriment to sport fishing.  They are known as stalking predators, and will target large fish, small mammals and waterfowl.  They were targeted for extermination in many waters of the US and Mexico during this period.  When better knowledge of the interaction of ecosystems came in the 80’s, the emphasis went from extermination to protection and reintroduction.  Today, many states have an alligator gar fishery.

Reintroduction into Illinois

Illinois has waters that run into two massive interstate watersheds.  Some waters run toward Lake Michigan and into the Great Lakes waterway, while others head toward the mighty Mississippi.  There is a large pool of federal funding money that has been set aside to deal with the scourge of Asian Carp as it quickly repopulates through the area.  The gar reintroduction program is using that funding to help deal with this issue.  As a bonus, hatcheries stocking alligator gar will serve as a large trophy fish that can bring state revenue through fish endorsement licenses and tourism dollars.

Will it Work?

The gar is not a complete solution to the carp problem.  Population-wise, the carp outnumber the gar by a massive amount.  The largest carp are too large to be swallowed by the narrow-throated gar.  Also, populations of gar will not breed until they reach sexual maturity at age 11, while carp begin reproducing at age 3.  This means that they can take a small portion of the population, but they will never be the main control mechanism for these fish.  However, after several years, once they have firmly reestablished their numbers, the gar can be a preventative measure in areas without Asian carp if smaller, younger fish try and expand their territory.  Instead, netting and fish kills seems to be the only way to keep this majorly invasive fish species at bay.

When Will Gar Reintroduction Begin?

The hatcheries stocking alligator gar program has been approved since 2010, but funding has only recently been secured.  Hatcheries are prepping to begin grow-out and release as early as next year.  From there, Illinois will need to decide how to handle fishing seasons for this once extinct species.