December 16, 2008

New Mexico Minnows To Be Transplanted In Texas

A team of biologists collected between 400,000 and 500,000 endangered silvery minnows from Albuquerque Biological Park so they could be sent to Texas and released into the Rio Grande in hopes of saving the species.

Researchers said the initiative would help save the lives of rare Rio Grande silvery minnows, which have been listed as endangered since 1994.

Due to pressures on the river and changes in habitat, the minnow today only occupies about 5 percent of its historic range - a stretch of the Rio Grande in central New Mexico.

"For us, it's historic," said Chris Altenbach, the biopark's curator of fishes. "For us, this is what we're interested in seeing, that the fish do well."

Rather than letting the minnows free as soon as they arrive, they will be held in pens in the river so they can acclimate once they arrive in Big Bend.

Biologists expect to open the pens and let the minnows explore more of their new home on Wednesday.

"We're not just dumping them straight into the river," said Jason Remshardt, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's lead biologist for the minnow. "When you first stock fish, especially when they've been on the truck for 12 hours, they're a little stressed. Their first instinct is to swim down river as fast as they can."

Remshardt said this week's work has been in the planning stages for years. As part of the minnow's recovery plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to establish at least three stable populations - including the one in central New Mexico.

"To have a chance at making it, we have to have multiple populations and the more we have, the less pressure it puts on any one by itself," Remshardt said.

Aimee Roberson, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Alpine, Texas, said the goal of the reintroduction is to one day be able to downlist the minnow and eventually remove it from the threatened and endangered species list altogether.


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