The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to reintroduce the Topeka shiner, an endangered species of fish, to several areas throughout Missouri. USFWS published a proposal Jan. 23 along with the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.
According to the USFWS website, the established populations would be a “nonessential experiment population.” This means the experimental population is not essential for the continual existence of the species.
The Topeka Shiner has not been seen much during several decades and now only occupies 19 percent of its original habitat, according to a USFWS press release, and it occupies 15 percent of its former range in Missouri. According to the USFWS website, Topeka Shiner populations have decreased due to habitat destruction, sedimentation and changes in water quality.
“The species used to be abundant in the Chariton River Basin and other areas in the prairie region,” said Darren Thornhill, Fisheries Management Biologist at the Northeast Regional Missouri Department of Conservation.
Thornhill said it is proposed to put the fish in the Spring Creek Basin, a stream system west of Kirksville near Novinger and Greencastle. The main stream of Spring Creek actually is too large for these fish, who prefer smaller streams. The fish also would be placed in the Union Ridge Conservation Area, he said.
The populations will be introduced to Adair, Harrison, Gentry, Putnam, Sullivan and Worth counties.
Thornhill said the species became endangered due to habitat changes throughout time. One reason for the loss of good stream habitat from straightenization, the straightening of streams to reduce flooding or provide more land for agriculture use. Soil erosion led to poor water quality in other cases.
“We are basically reintroducing the fish to where it historically occurred,” said Paul McKenzie, Fisheries Director of the Ecological Services Field Office in Columbia, Mo. “We don’t foresee that there will be any impact on native fish.”
McKenzie said the fish probably would be introduced sometime this summer if the proposal gets approved in time for the spring breeding season. The fish would be bred in several pond hatcheries throughout the region.
He said the species grow to about three inches long and are characterized by their silver color with a dark stripe on their sides. Males develop orange fins during the breeding season. Their ideal habitats are small pools with deep, clear water.
The species is protected from illegal killing with the Endangered Species Act, but accidental killings would not be punished.
Steve Herrington, Director of Freshwater Conservation at the Nature Conservancy in St. Louis, said putting a species back in its historical habitat means chances of survival are higher due to the correct habitat conditions. He said successful reintroductions can help generate tourism for conservation areas. Reintroduction also helps to improve behavior research, he said.
“Reintroduction of endangered species is beneficial for population control and continued biodiversity of ecosystems,” Herrington said.
The USFWS is having two public meetings to discuss the reintroduction plans and encourages people to attend. McKenzie said the meetings would let private landowners know what the Service is planning with the introduction. He said the reintroduction would not impact what they do on private land.
The first meeting is 6 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Eagleville Community Center. The second meeting is 6 p.m. February 21 at the Green City City Hall.