[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Thinking about this............

            by John Bondhus, Monticello, Minnesota

Almost every year a new North American freshwater fish species
becomes extinct.  Most of these extinctions could have been
prevented by  reproduction in aquariums or in protected areas.
Many became extinct because people willing to help simply did
not know which species were in greatest need of help or what
they could personally do to help.  Many NANFA members are
working individually on conservation programs but no
coordinated effort exists. Therefore, the NANFA board of
directors has decided to establish a species conservation
program to coordinate and help promote activities.

NANFA is a unique organization.  It's heavy emphasis on
aquarium study of North American fishes may give it more
potential to prevent extinction's  of our native endangered
species than any current organization including the government.
The federal government has a  program for endangered fishes,
but  less than $1,000,000 is allocated  each year for fish
recovery programs (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1992).
Congress simply lacks the political willingness to spend money
except on a few high visibility species.  A few other
conservation efforts are being done by state and federal
agencies. The largest being at the Dexter National  Fish
Hatchery that allocates about $400,000 from game fish hatchery
funds.  Most  programs depend on the individual initiatives of
dedicated biologists who find their own ways to get grant money
or do them on their own time.  Today,  at least 50 species  get
no funds or attention at all.  Many other organizations have
started conservation programs and some like the Desert Fishes
Council and the Aquatic Conservation Network have been very
successful in working with universities and government agencies
to attain common goals.  Only NANFA  covers the entire North
American collection and has a heavy focus on aquarium
reproduction. A large percentage of the biologists  working on
rare fish conservation programs are already NANFA members. Many
of our amateur members are very knowledgeable as well,
especially in  breeding and collecting fish. Aquarium spawning
is not a permanent solution but it's better than total
extinction.  Often, it's the last line of defense.  It can buy
time until an adequate recovery plan is implemented and it's an
area NANFA member's usually enjoy.

For more than thirty years now, I have been watching sadly as
more and more species become extinct.  I kept telling myself
the government would start doing something about solving this
problem.  I really hoped with the Endangered and Threatened
Species Act of 1973 something would start to happen, but only a
token amount of money is allocated to it.  In fact, our
congress allocates less than a cent per person per year for
fish recovery programs.  Many low priority species are
deliberately ruled out for federal reproduction programs
because of lack of space.  One species no longer existed in the
wild and its removal meant automatic extinction. (Minckley, W.
& Deacon, J. 1991).   Yes, they raised a tremendous hullabaloo
about the Snail Darter Percina tanasi and delayed a major dam
construction to protect it but this was done only with
publicity and legal pressures.  At the same time, just in the
last few years,  three or four easily reproducible species
became extinct with no efforts expended.  These species would
have been relatively easy for NANFA club members to breed and

I have always felt "well, there is not much I can do because
the government  would not let me breed endangered species with
the regulations in place."  I was wrong.  Al Castro, phone
number 415-467-9344 told me you do not even need a permit in
most cases to keep, breed, and distribute them.  This assumes
you legally obtained them and do not buy or sell them.  An
exception may be if they are covered by your local state game
and fish laws.  Normally these laws cover only game and
commercial species  living within the state's waters.

The more people we become involved, the more species we can
save.  This involvement is often due to lack of  knowledge of
what needs to be done, how urgent it is, or how to do it
without legal troubles.  We can maximize this involvement by
communicating to members the current project needs, status on
each species and applicable laws. There are at least one
hundred species on Federal Threatened and Endangered  Species
Lists and at least as many that are as rare but not officially
listed yet. In addition there are locally threatened stocks in
almost every state (Schmidt, K. 1990).  We can gather
information on each of these species, report on their current
status and then members can more easily select projects that
fit their interests, resources, and abilities.  What we do can
only increase the current efforts of others and to help ensure
more species survive.  We should maintain a data base on what
is actually being done for each of these species and who has
legally obtainable species.

In many cases, there are programs in place, and we should
support  organizations doing those programs.   Members may want
to volunteer to help on some of these programs.  Let me give
you an example -- a frequent NANFA member, J.R. Shute is
currently working on seven species.  He developed a non-profit
organization to do this, Conservation Fisheries, Inc., 7108-A
Commercial Park Dr..,  Knoxville, Tenn. 37918 and has secured
funding from various organizations to work on these seven

This example may be interesting to you because a non-profit
organization can pay its employees a reasonable salary.  Many
of our members could get jobs this way doing what they really
like.  There should be money available for protecting
endangered species in both the public and private sectors.  The
traditional sources, state and federal grants may be more
limited than private grants.  Large corporations can easily
justify spending a million dollars for the publicity value
alone if they can see concrete ways to tie the success of a
major effort into their company's image or their management's
personal values..  We need to put our collective creative
efforts together to find new ways to redefine the economics of
species conservation.  NANFA  can help here by publishing new
fund raising ideas that you may develop for your project.  If
one or two other members develop similar programs to what J. R.
Shute is doing we  would be instrumental in helping to save
several species.  The limitation to a project is usually taking
the initiative to raise  money to get the job done, taking the
time to do it themselves, or organizing volunteers.

Many species became extinct  because nobody was involved.  No
central communication system existed to communicate the serious
status until it was too late.  Certainly someone cared with the
Snail Darter.  In other species, they never reached the
political limelight, and died for lack of a few thousand
dollars worth of efforts.  For example, 10 years ago there were
five species of Gambusia that are endangered.  Today, probably
only 3 of the 5 still survive.  How complicated can it be to
take a simple live-bearing fish as this and reproduce it in
several members' aquariums to at least provide some redundancy
in case the wild population is lost.  The Goodenough gambusia
(Gambusia amistadensis) program lacked this redundancy and that
species is now totally extinct.  This extinction was caused by
hatchery errors occurring simultaneously at the only two
captive breeding locations. (Hubbs and Jensen, 1984).  With
captive breeding its very common to make mistakes and  there
must be a much higher level of redundancy here than in the
wild.   The captive breeding populations need to be perpetually
managed in a data base as members  change their interests or
accidentally lose their individual populations so an adequate
number of separate locations are maintained with frequent
transfers of genetic stock between them.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife service have developed individual
species recovery plans for most of the official U. S.
Threatened and endangered species. That does not  mean there is
money to implement these plans.  They need  help from other
organizations to implement these plans and today they are
receptive to offers for help. The most important part of any
plan is to implement it.  The government has reasonably good
plans for most of the endangered and threatened species but no
money or firm timetable to insure their success.  Grass root
support from NANFA members and others can double or triple the
number of plans that are carried through to completion.

Plans should also be reviewed and suggestions made to Fish and
Wildlife where you feel they can be improved.  For example, I
think the Maryland Darter Etheostoma sellare program (U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service 1985) with the known limited population
should have had a captive breeding program included in it.
This may have been its fatal flaw.  It's possible that no one
realized that many members of NANFA are successfully breeding
many species of Darters.  Of course, it's always easy to look
back in time and suggest solutions.  Let's start reviewing
these plans and try to prevent future mistakes from being made.
Your suggestions could prevent a future extinction.

We can also develop plans for the non-listed rare species
before they reach the more serious status levels.  You may
prefer working on these species because of  the greatly reduced
or non-existent rules and regulations specially if you are
interested in distributing fish you have reproduced to others.
Plans are also needed for Canadian and Mexican fish.


Many of the species on the endangered list may already be
extinct.  For a species on the verge of extinction, it is not
good enough to assume it may be extinct.  That very assumption
frequently leads to the loss of the last few remaining animals
in the wild.  It's not uncommon at all to see endangered
species become extinct as far as the government is concerned,
and then show up accidentally ten, twenty or thirty years later
in a small isolated population.  The Maryland Darter has been
described as probably extinct(Wheeler 1991).  The San Marcos
Gambusia Gambusia georgei and the Scioto Madtom Noturus
trautmani have been listed as probably extinct as well (U. S.
Fish and Wildlife Service 1992).  That determination is
frequently made without an adequate survey of the species
potential habitat.  Many species thought to be extinct show up
10 or 20 years later in an isolated location.  Today, with
declining habitat conditions in many areas, ignoring an
extremely rare population is almost like condemning it to
extinction. If we truly believe in saving the gene pool and the
value of each individual species, they deserve more than just a
passing "they are probably extinct so we should not worry about
them any more."  We should organize collecting trips of
sufficient length to make a true determination, and if
necessary find some financial backing that can help support
this effort.  Ideally, the collecting team should include an
expert collector like Konrad Schmidt   to be sure no habitat
areas are uncollected.

Even if we are unsuccessful in locating the target species the
time will not be wasted.  Watershed species diversity studies
need to be conducted in almost every state especially in the
tributary watersheds above dams where many rare species exist.
This work is fun and  can be done at the same time as you
collect for your aquarium.  It's also a great way to personally
learn a lot about your local habitat and species.

Many species are not yet being held in captivity and it's very
difficult to get individual permits to collect these. The Fish
and Wildlife Service has several good reasons it is very
reluctant  to  approve individuals  to legally collect  these
species but it can be done.  Al Morales just got a permit for
the Desert Hole pupfish Cyprinodon diabolis.  It took 2 years
of research, a detailed proposal,  and a lot of  paperwork but
he did it and his contribution may make a real difference.
Contact him at 303-756-0107 if you want to know more about
this.  He is willing to provide guidance to others who are
serious about species conservation.

It's a lot easier to get fish for captive breeding before they
are classified as threatened or endangered.  Many species are
just as rare yet still unprotected as the official listed
species but for political or other reasons never made the list.
For example, the Cowhead Lake tui chub Gila bicolor vaccaceps
never made the list because the single population occurs
primarily on a private ranch.  The landowner would likely be
uncooperative with restoration efforts if it were listed
(Moyle, P and Yoshiyama, R. 1994). The best way to determine
which fish are rare and not yet listed would be to review the
American Fisheries list (Williams et al 1989) and compare it to
NANFA list (Schmidt K. 1990) which shows only official Federal
and State listed species.


Several of the endangered species are so limited in their
current range that they do not even have a large enough
population to survive even an occasional environmental event
that can occur every 10 years or so.  In the past when fish
were eliminated from a small river or creek the population was
restored from nearby populations.  Dams and other barriers have
changed that and now these species must be moved artificially
between habitats to maintain population stability.
Unfortunately, some of these species are so rare in their
limited habitat that it's too risky to take a large enough
quantity to stock the additional area.  At the same time the
habitat is too small to ever get a larger population.  Captive
breeding requires fewer specimens.  They must be bred
artificially to get this reintroduction capability as well as
to provide a backup population.

Within NANFA, there are many real serious expert breeders. We
need to develop a data base of breeders and species they are
interested in, their success rate, and whether they have any
available species to distribute. Paul Loiselle at the  NY
Aquarium for Wildlife Conservation  and Dave Schleser at the
Dallas Aquarium are actively looking for serious aquarists to
help keep several species alive.  The AKA protocol does not
allow them to give them to individual aquarists.  They are,
however,  willing to donate them to a club that maintains a
serious record-keeping  system.  In addition, we need to gather
the data on breeding techniques and put it in the same data
base.  For example, I know Ray Katula, our current President,
has bred many species, but we do not know which species so we
would know when  we can ask for help on a particular species.
Another example that comes to mind is the late Nancy Garcia,
who specialized in the Darters.  It would really have helped if
we had notes in our data base on all the different Darter
species she reproduced.  When we select some of the endangered
species  to reproduce, a lot can be learned by breeding the
species that are closely related.  Many  members could help in
this program without even getting permits to breed the actual
endangered species.

Each species we work with takes a different program to ensure
its survival.  For example, in the Gambusia, one of the
principal threats is from hybridization with other Gambusia
species.  The survival plan might include getting several
members to develop genetically diverse founder populations that
are regularly supplemented with wild fish under a strictly
controlled process.  The 2nd generation could be spread out in
aquariums across the country or in remote farm ponds where they
are safe from hybridization.

Once we have solved the breeding problems of an endangered
species, we could distribute some of these fish to other
members who are willing to help reproduce that species.  There
are already species of fish that are extinct in the wild that
are being kept alive in aquariums around the world.  It would
certainly be helpful if the same thing would happen with North
American species. Yes, there is some risk of genetic impurity
among the hobbyist breeders or in farm ponds but even this is
better than the outlook for a totally extinct species.  We
could develop a pedigree listing program where amateur
aquarists would be allowed to maintain specimens suitable for
reintroduction if needed.  With today's computer power this
could be done at a  low cost.

Breeding articles on the endangered species and the related
species to them should be published in NANFA whenever possible,
as they can be used to help researchers working desperately on
solving a particular breeding problem.  For example, right now
J.R. Shute, whom I mentioned earlier, is looking for any
information he can get on what triggers spawning in the
Madtoms.  Especially the Smoky Madtom Noturus baileyi and the
Yellow Fin Madtom Noturus flavipinnis, which he is working on
trying to reproduce in aquariums.  Contact him ASAP at phone
no. (615) 922-3906 if you have any ideas here.


Probably the most important thing to ensure a species survival
is to improve its original habitat.  In some cases the habitat
was so small, like the Devils Hole Pup Fish, that it may be
eliminated.  A quick study of what is required for the habitat
is necessary, and then to select several sites to introduce
this species should be started immediately.  A lot of
environmental damage has been caused by species introduced into
new habitats and it's very risky to introduce a new species.
All reintroductions must be carefully reviewed with government
officials and follow American Fisheries Society suggested
guidelines. (Williams, J., Sada, D., Williams, C., et al. 1988)

Reintroducing non-endangered but locally extirpated species
needs to be done as well.  State fish and game departments do
reintroduce and maintain local game fish populations but
usually not non-game species.  The resulting  reduced species
diversity can upset the balance of nature in many unintended
ways.  It also leads to reduction of range and gene pool
diversity for many not yet rare species.  Ideally, the entire
species list should be restored similar to what Konrad Schmidt
is doing on the Knife River. (Schmidt, K. 1993)

To summarize, I believe NANFA and you can do a lot to help us
reverse this unfortunate trend of species extinction..  Let's
work together with government biologists, public aquarium
workers, and academicians to maximize our efforts.  To me it is
tragic that in a country with so many resources, we cannot make
certain that we ensure the survival of all of our native
species.  Let's do something about it.  Please contact me and
volunteer to help on this project in any way that you choose.
If you are already working on rare fish conservation  let us
know so interested members can network with you.  Fill out the
enclosed form and send it in today, before you forget.  Let's
not wait for the government to do it, let's get in and make a
real contribution ourselves.

Hubbs, C.  & Jensen, B. L.  (1984): Extinction of Gambusia
amistandensis, an endangered fish. Copeia 1984:529-530

Maitland, P & Evans, D (1986):The role of captive breeding in
the conservation of species Int. Zoo Yb. 24/25:66-74

Minckley, W. & Deacon, J. (1991):Battle against extinction The
University of Arizona Press p205

Moyle, P & Yoshiyama R. (1994):Protection of aquatic
biodiversity in California Fisheries, Vol. 19, No. 2:

Schmidt, K. (1990) Endangered, threatened, and special-status
fishes of North America, 3rd edition American Currents Mar-May

Schmidt, K. (1993) Putting back the pieces American Currents
Spring 1993

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1985): Revised Maryland Darter
Recovery Plan. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner,
Ma 38pp

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1992):Report to the
Congress:Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Program. U.
S. Dept. of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service,
Washington, D. C 1992 280pp

Wheeler, T (1991): Maryland darter may have vanished American
Currents summer 1991:27-28 or Baltimore Evening Sun July

Williams, J., Sada, D., Williams, C., et al. (1988) American
Fisheries Society Guidelines for Introductions of Threatened
and Endangered Fishes 1988 Fisheries, Vol. 13, no 5

Williams, J., Johnson, J., Hendrickson, D., Contreras-Balderas,
S., Williams, J., Navarro-Mendoza, M., McAllister, D., &
Deacon, J. (1989)  Fishes of North America Endangered,
Threatened, or of Special Concern: 1989 Fisheries, Vol. 14, No

Campbell, R.  Editor Rare and Endangered Fishes and Marine
Mammals of Canada
     (1984) Canadian Field Naturalist 98(1)
     (1985) Canadian Field Naturalist 99(3)
     (1987) Canadian Field Naturalist 101(2)

Johnson, J. (1987) Protected Fishes of the United States &
Canada American Fisheries Society

Langton, R. (1993) Killifish Conservation Handbook American
Killifish Association

Miller, R., Williams, J., & Williams, J. (1989) Extinction's of
North American Fishes During the Past Century Fisheries, Vol.
14, No. 6

Ono, R., Williams, J., & Wagner, A. (1983) Vanishing Fishes of
N. America Stone Wall Press