Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Happy Darter Holidays from TNACI

T’was time for the holidays in the state of Tennessee
And everyone at TNACI was happy as can be.
We’re ready for some fun, some food, and maybe snow
And to feature some fishes we love and we know.

If you tend to celebrate the Christian way
And have your winter holiday on Christmas Day,
Then maybe you’ll find a new friend and ally
In a very special fish, Etheostoma hopkinsi.

Christmas Darter (E. hopkinsi) photo by Dustin Smith

And if Santa visits your house, tell your kids to be good
Cuz they’ll want some sweets, that’s well understood.
So show them an image of some aquatic fun
With E. osburni and E. neopterum.

Candy Darter (E. osburni) Photo by Cory Dunn 
Lollipop Darter (E. neopturum) illustration by Joe Tomelleri

But if you’ve been bad, you know what will be
In your stocking that day or under the tree.
There’ll be no sweets, no presents, nada,
Except maybe E. cinereum or Percina brevicauda.

Ashy Darter (E. cinereum) illustration by Joe Tomelleri.
Coal Darter (Percina brevicauda) illustration by Joe Tomelleri.

We hope that you laughed due to this little ditty.
I really can’t lie, fish humor makes us giddy.
Instead of singing carols to you, with flutes and a drum,
We will just say have a Happy Etheostoma brevirostrum.

Holiday Darter (E. brevirostrum) illustration by Joe Tomelleri.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What are 303(d) Streams?

Freshwater is the most important resource on this planet.  Without it, humans cannot live.  However, with development and industrialization has come the pollution of freshwater bodies on which we rely.  During the 20th century, the USA reached a breaking point with its water bodies.  Estimates state that about  65% of streams were polluted, but no one knew for sure.  Some rivers so polluted from industry and development that they caught fire

To bring water pollution under control, Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972.  This October was the 40th Anniversary of its passing!  Under this act the EPA must regulate how much pollution industries discharge into rivers.  Under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, states must compile a list of water bodies that exceed federal limits of pollutants.  Any stream on this list is called a 303(d) stream.  Prior to the passing of the CWA, there was no way for the public to know how many water bodies were impaired in their communities or which streams were unsafe.  Now, agencies must monitor pollutants in rivers and update the list of 303(d) streams every few years. Once a stream or river is on this list, it is considered a priority for water quality improvement.  This can be accomplished by strict permitting and enforcement on industry, or preventative efforts to reduce runoff.

In Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is the agency that is responsible for listing 303(d) streams.  For an updated list of impaired streams in Tennessee, click the link below.  Here in Hamilton County there are about 30 impaired streams covering approximately 200 miles.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lake Sturgeon Sampling 2012

TNACI loves November, and not just for the Thanksgiving holiday.  November is the month for Lake Sturgeon monitoring!  For one week TNACI and its partners in the Lake Sturgeon reintroduction project (University of Tennessee, US Fish and Wildlife, TWRA, and TVA) intensely sample the upper Tennessee River in an effort to capture sturgeon that have been released there over the last 14 years.

We actually kicked off our week of sturgeon in New Orleans at the Southeastern Fishes Council meeting where scientists from all over the Southeastern U.S. convened to share their research.  TNACI talked to this group about the Lake Sturgeon project and how far it has come in the last decade.  After catching only 5 Lake Sturgeon over 10 years, the working group enlisted the help of commercial fishermen in November 2011.  This resulted in 34 sturgeon caught over the sampling week!  They ranged from the 1999-2010 year class and the largest was 44 inches and 18 pounds.  The scientists at SFC were excited to hear about the beginning of recovery of Lake Sturgeon in the Tennessee River, and TNACI was eager to hit the water and see what happened this year.

The day after we got back from New Orleans, we met with the Lake Sturgeon team near Knoxville to begin baiting hooks and determining where to sample.  Each day’s schedule was basically the same: 

1. Pull trotlines in the morning
Kathilna pulling in lines with TWRA
2.  Re-bait

Evan baiting trotlines
Ashford chopping bait
 3.  Setting trotlines in the evening

TWRA putting out trotlines

Trotlining is a very labor-intensive fishing method, as lines must be coiled carefully within the box to ensure the lines go out without getting caught on themselves. 

Ashford coiling
Look at those beautiful coils!

Trotlining gone wrong
It was a cold week, with air temperatures in the 30’s most mornings.  The first evening we set trotlines in the rain! Thankfully, this effort in bad weather was not wasted as the team caught 17 sturgeon the first day!

Kathlina with a Lake Sturgeon
Every Sturgeon was measured and weighed.
Dave Matthews from TVA with a Lake Sturgeon
Measuring a Lake Sturgeon

We also scanned each fish for a Passive Integrative Transponder (PIT) tag.  PIT tags are basically like the microchips that are commonly used in pets.  Each tag has a unique number that can be used to identify an individual.  If the fish did not have a PIT tag, we injected one so that we can monitor recapture and movement.  

Injecting a PIT tag
Scanning for a PIT tag

We also checked to see which scutes were missing to determine the age of the fish. 

Scutes 5 & 6 appear to be missing from this fish

TVA began collecting data on the type of bottom where we were catching sturgeon by collecting sediment with a PONAR grab dredge.  The sediment composition through the sampling area did not seem to change much, as it was mostly composed of clay and some silt.

Depositing sediement
Putting out the PONAR grab dredge

Mostly clay and silt sediment from Fort Loudoun Reservoir

It was a successful week, with 52 Lake Sturgeon caught by Friday.  The biggest was nine years old, 49 inches and 17 pounds.  This is the most we have ever caught in a single sampling week and is almost double last year’s catch.  While this is a promising sign, it is still too soon to determine if this will be a self sustaining population.  Lake Sturgeon do not reproduce until they are in their teens, and the oldest fish in the Tennessee River right now are 14 years old.  We are also not sure how much dams are affecting the movement of the fish.  Some have been caught as far downstream as Kentucky Lake, but it is still yet to be seen if the dams and reservoirs will affect reproduction and recruitment.  We hope that one day there will be a healthy recreational fishery for this special animal.  But remember, it is still illegal to keep a Lake Sturgeon, so if you catch one, please release it and report it to TWRA; you will receive a certificate of appreciation.
Bernie with a Lake Sturgeon

Monday, November 5, 2012

New Fishes Named after U.S. Leaders, Three in Tennessee

Five new fish species were scientifically described last week, all after former or current U.S leaders who have records of environmental leadership and commitment. Three species are found in Tennessee, which already leads the nation in freshwater fish diversity with 315 species. These new species were formerly considered isolated populations of the wide-ranging Speckled Darter (Etheostoma stigmaeum) but are now recognized as distinct species based on morphology and male breeding colors.

The Speckled Darter (Etheostoma stigmaeum) is less widely distributed than previously thought but still occurs in Gulf of Mexico drainages from Pensacola Bay in Florida and Alabama west to the Red, Atchafalaya, and Saline rivers in Louisiana.

These new species are part of a group of darters (subgenus Doration) that are found throughout southeastern river drainages west of the Appalachians. The new species, described by Steve Layman at Geosyntec Consultants in Kennesaw GA and Rick Mayden at Saint Louis University MO, include Etheostoma obama, the Spangled Darter, found entirely within Tennessee; Etheostoma gore, the Cumberland Darter and Etheostoma jimmycarter, the Bluegrass Darter, both found in Tennessee and Kentucky; Etheostoma teddyroosevelt, the Highland Darter from the Ozark Plateau in Missouri, Arkansas, and the corners of Kansas and Oklahoma; and Etheostoma clinton, the Beaded Darter from the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas.

Distribution of nine darter species in the subgenus Doration, including five new species of darters named after U.S. presidents and vice president (Etheostoma obama, E. gore, E. teddyroosevelt, E. jimmycarter, and E. clinton).

Etheostoma obama, the Spangled Darter is named after President Barack Obama for his policies on promoting clean energy, energy efficiency, environmental protection, and humanitarian effort during challenging economic times. This species is restricted to the Duck and Buffalo rivers in the Tennessee River drainage, Tennessee.

Etheostoma obama, the Spangled Darter.

Etheostoma gore is named after former Vice President Al Gore for his environmental vision during decades of public service and raising awareness on the issue of global climate change. In the description the common name was the Cumberland Darter, but that name is already applied to another darter, Etheostoma susanae. The new common name is the Warioto Darter; Warioto is the Shawnee name for the Cumberland River. This species is restricted to the Cumberland River drainage below Cumberland Falls in Tennessee and Kentucky, excluding the upper Caney Fork drainage.

Etheostoma gore, the Warioto Darter.

Etheostoma jimmycarter, the Bluegrass Darter is named after former President Jimmy Carter for his environmental leadership in national energy policy and wilderness protection, and his life-long commitment to global social justice and human rights. This species is restricted to the Green River system in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Etheostoma jimmycarter, the Bluegrass Darter.

Etheostoma teddyroosevelt, the Highland Darter is named after former President Theodore Roosevelt for his enduring environmental conservation legacy by the designation of national forests, wildlife refuges, national monuments, and national parks, as well as his efforts to establish the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This species is found in the Arkansas and upper White River drainages on the Ozark Plateau in Missouri, Arkansas, and the corners of Kansas and Oklahoma.

 Etheostoma teddyroosevelt, the Highland Darter.

Etheostoma clinton, the Beaded Darter is named after former President Bill Clinton for his environmental leadership in expanding national monuments and preserving large expanses of wilderness areas and his continued commitment to global humanitarian issues. This species is restricted to the upper Caddo and upper Ouachita River drainages in the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas.

Etheostoma clinton, the Beaded Darter.

All darter illustration by Joe Tomelleri.

Citation: Layman, Steven R., and Richard L. Mayden. 2012. Morphological diversity and phylogenetics of the darter subgenus Doration (Percidae: Etheostoma), with descriptions of five new species. Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History Number 30:1-83.

This blog was undated on 29 November 2012 to reflect the new common name for Etheostoma gore.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

TNACI Awarded Grant for a New Conservation Program

For the last 14 years, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and its partners have been working diligently to rear Lake Sturgeon in captivity and reintroduce them into the Tennessee River.  For the last three years, we have worked with Conservation Fisheries Incorporated to breed endangered Conasauga Logperch in captivity and augment their populations in Tennessee and Georgia.  This year, TNACI was awarded a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to create a new propagation program.
Photo of a Southern Appalachian Brook Trout in its natural environment.  Photograph by Dave Herasimtschuk. 
Southern Appalachian Brook Trout  (SABT) in Tennessee and North Carolina are distinct from the Brook Trout found elsewhere in the United States because they have been geographically isolated from their northern relatives for thousands of years.  They are under threat from habitat degradation and invasive species introduction.  Historically, they lived in cool, fast flowing streams in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Logging and agricultural practices, however, have decimated Appalachian forests, which in turn harm the waters where brook trout live.  When surrounding forests are lost from creeks, water temperature rises, oxygen levels drop, and siltation from erosion increases, all resulting in streams that can no longer support brook trout.  In addition, introduced populations of rainbow trout, brown trout, and even northern brook trout compete with native SABT for the most high quality habitat.  In the Southeast, only 3% of historic watersheds support SABT populations.  

Conservation measures for this fish have been underway over the last few years at other hatcheries in the Southeast.  However, we at TNACI are attempting to take a different approach.  In general, trout hatcheries (and hatcheries for other fish) operate on flow-through systems.  When TNACI was located in Cohutta, GA, our Lake Sturgeon were in a flow-though system.  While this is energy efficient and has the potential for housing large numbers of fish, disease transfer and escapees can be a problem.  This grant will help TNACI develop techniques for rearing SABT in recirculating systems that drastically reduce disease transfer and escape concerns.

With assistance from our partners (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service) we have collected 50 Brook Trout for brood stock.  This is a beautiful fish, especially during the fall when they spawn.  All year, the fish have red spots along their sides, and their pectoral, pelvic and anal fins are red with a white leading edge.  But when spawning season arrives, the red coloring becomes much more pronounced.  

SABT in July

SABT in October

We have already stripped some of our SABT of their gametes (eggs and sperm).  It is a delicate process that involved gently squeezing the trout.  Once fish were stripped, 1% saline was added to the eggs and sperm and the solution stirred with a turkey feather.  The turkey feather is an old tradition that has been used for decades in fish hatcheries.  Now that the eggs have been fertilized they are being held at TNACI until they hatch, which takes about two weeks.  We should have babies (larval SABT) very soon!

Stripping a SABT and taking a fin clipping
Fertilized trout eggs

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Happy 40th Birthday National Marine Sanctuaries Act!

True or False? The oceans are vast and inexhaustible in resources.  While not too long ago scientists believed this to be true, it is resoundingly false.  While the oceans are vast, the resources they provide the planet must be managed effectively to ensure a healthy planet and healthy people.  No matter where we live, whether it is on the coast or hundreds of miles inland, the ocean affects our everyday life.  The ocean provides much of the oxygen for planet Earth through the photosynthesis of phytoplankton, algae, and other aquatic plants;  the ocean regulates the planet’s weather and climate; we rely on the ocean for transportation of goods; the ocean provides us with food; the ocean floor provides us with natural resources including oil and natural gas; the ocean provides other resources that are used in medicine.  If the ocean is not healthy, we are not healthy.

Over the last two centuries, the human population has exploded and technology has advanced at breakneck speed.  This made areas once remote and inaccessible to people within reach.  Coastal development contributed to pollution of estuaries and near shore areas.  The need for food caused a gold rush of sorts to the coast where fishers exhausted fisheries to the point of collapse.  Something needed to change, and proactive measures needed to be taken to ensure that our ocean resources could endure for generations.

1972 was a good year for environmental legislation.  The Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) are two well known pieces of legislation that passed into law in 1972.  They were landmarks for conservation, giving agencies the obligation to regulate clean water and punish individuals or organizations that harm marine mammals, many of which are threatened or endangered.  However, another act was also passed that same year.  It is just as important as the CWA or MMPA.  It addresses some of the challenges described above and the goal of this act is to ensure that future generations can enjoy the cultural, economic, and ecological benefits of the marine environment:  The National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA).

The NMSA gives authority to the Secretary of Commerce to designate areas of the marine environment as national marine sanctuaries.  These areas may be selected based on conservation needs, economic or ecological benefits they provide, or their cultural archaeological or educational qualities they possess.  Currently, there are 14 National Marine Sanctuaries in U.S. waters, and each protects a precious resource for us and for future generations.  Sanctuaries may protect a significant archaeological site from degradation, nursery areas for commercially important fish, breeding grounds for fish and marine mammals, or may have a high diversity of organisms in that area.

Currently the NMSA is under reauthorization.  This means that the Act may be updated so that it can adapt to current management regimes for marine resources,  In addition, it may also allow for more sanctuaries to be added to the national system.  More sanctuaries means more areas where fish and other marine animals can escape from intense pressures from people.  More marine sanctuaries means healthier oceans:  future harvest for fishers, scenic places for divers and snorkelers to enjoy, and refuges for marine animals.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Critical Habitat Designated for Five Endangered Southeastern Fishes

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 229 miles of rivers and creeks and 29 acres of springs and wetlands as critical habitat for five endangered fishes in the southeastern U.S.  Critical habitat is the area important to the survival of an imperiled species at the time of its listing. Some of these critical habitats may need special management or protection to ensure the survival of the endangered fish.  Most of the habitat for these fishes has been degraded due to fragmentation, channel modification, sedimentation, and altered flows of these river and creek systems.


Critical habitat for the Rush Darter (Etheostoma phytophilum) is three isolated area in north-central Alabama including tributaries and spring systems of the Turkey Creek (Jefferson County), Clear Creek (Winston County), and Little Cove- Bristow Creek watersheds (Etowah County). The Rush Darter relies on aquatic vegetation associated with groundwater to feed, hide, and reproduce.
Endangered Rush Darters (Etheostoma phytophilum) from a spring in north-central Alabama. Photo by Bernie Kuhajda.
Unnamed spring along a state highway in north-central Alabama, critical habitat for the endangered Rush Darter (Etheostoma phytophilum). Photo by Bernie Kuhajda.
The Laurel Dace (Chrosomus saylori) is right in our backyard.  It is a colorful minnow found only on the top of Walden Ridge outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Its critical habitat is only six small creeks in Bledsoe, Rhea, and Sequatchie counties!

Endangered Laurel Dace (Chrosomus saylori) found in creeks on Walden Ridge near Chattanooga. Photo by Dave Neely.
The Chucky Madtom (Noturus crypticus) is a small catfish only known from Little Chucky Creek, a small tributary to the Nolichucky River in east-central Tennessee, Greene County.   Such a small range makes the protection of the critical habitat extremely important, especially since this is an extremely rare and endangered fish.  Only a couple of specimens have been collected in the last 20 years!

Endangered Chucky Madtom (Noturus crypticus) only found in a single small creek in east-central Tennessee. Illustration by Joe Tomelleri.

The Cumberland Darter (Etheostoma susanae) is restricted to the upper Cumberland River system in Tennessee and Kentucky.  Critical habitat includes 15 creeks systems.  Coal mining is one of the main human actions that has threatened this fish and its habitat.

Endangered Cumberland Darter (Etheostoma susanae) found in creeks of the upper Cumberland River system in Tennessee and Kentucky. Photo from http://conservationfisheries.org/index.php/species/all-species/etheostoma-susanae-cumberland-darter/.

The Yellowcheek Darter (Etheostoma moorei) is a found in the Ozark Highlands in north-central Arkansas. Critical Habitat includes the Devil’s, Middle, South, and Archey forks of the Little Red River in Cleburne, Searcy, Stone, and Van Buren counties.

Endangered Yellowcheek Darter (Etheostoma moorei) found in the Little Red River drainage in north-central Arkansas. Photo from http://conservationfisheries.org/index.php/species/all-species/etheostoma-moorei-yellowcheek-darter/.

Hopefully now that the critical habitat has been designated for these endangered fishes, active conservation plans can be made or implemented to prevent these animals from going extinct.