Topeka Shiner Minnow May Be Reintroduced

     WASHINGTON (CN) – In support of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) strategic recovery plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reintroduce the endangered Topeka shiner minnow into five Missouri rivers that were part of the species’ historical range by establishing a nonessential experimental population (NEP) for the fish, according to the agency’s proposal .
     The recovery goal of the MDC’s 10-year Strategic Plan for the Recovery of the Topeka Shiner in Missouri is to establish the fish in seven Missouri streams in a two-pronged effort. The first step is to stabilize the existing fish populations in Moniteau Creek and Sugar Creek watersheds by eliminating major threats and restoring the suitable habitat. The second approach is to reintroduce the fish into five additional streams, requiring the designation of a Topeka shiner NEP.
     Before designating an experimental population outside the endangered or threatened species’ current range, the USFWS must first determine that it will further the conservation of the species. Then, the agency must determine if the population would be essential or nonessential. An experimental population would be considered essential if its loss would reduce the likelihood of survival of the species in the wild. Even though the agency agrees with the MDC’s assessment that the experimental population is needed for the species’ recovery, the proposed Topeka shiner experimental population would be designated as nonessential because its loss would not be likely to threaten the continued existence of the species in the wild. The northern populations of the fish in Minnesota and South Dakota are secure, according to the agency.
     The Topeka shiner, a stout minnow just one and a half to three inches long, was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1998, and critical habitat was designated in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska in 2004. The shiner was once prevalent throughout the central prairies of the United States.
     The ESA provides for the establishment of experimental populations under a special exception, and the agency is allowed “broad discretion in devising management programs and special regulations for such a population,” the action noted.
     The fish have all but disappeared in much of Missouri since 1940 due to habitat alterations from siltation, tributary impoundment, reduced water levels and other effects of agriculture, urbanization and highway construction. Predation and species competition from stocked game fish and other introduced insect-eating fish have also played a role in the species’ decline.
     All proposed reintroduction sites are on public land, and are properly managed to prevent potential threats, according to the agency. The fish used to establish the NEP would come from a hatchery.
     The USFWS plans public meetings Feb. 19 and Feb. 21, and requests comments and recommendations from tribes, government agencies, the scientific community, industry and other interested parties by March 25.

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