Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Congress takes steps to eliminate the harvesting of sharks for shark fin soup


The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have recently passed legislation banning inhumane shark fishing practices to feed demand for shark fin soup. This link is a Washington Post article on the bill's passage.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

CFI on the radio

Our colleagues at Conservation Fisheries, Inc. (CFI) in Knoxville were featured on American Public Media's "The Story" for their 25+ years of working to conserve southeastern fishes. Click the link below to  listen to the podcast.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New article on the presence of arsenic and other toxic contaminants in surface water and sediment downstream of TVA's Kingston Coal Ash Spill disaster

A new report from Duke University researchers shows levels of arsenic and other contaminants at elevated levels at the site of the coal ash spill and in sediment and surface water downstream of the site. The findings of this study will likely be used by the EPA as they consider the future status of how coal fly ash is designated and treated.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NPR Story: Volga River Towns Fade Along With Prized Sturgeon

NPR has been running a series of news stories about life along the Volga River. In last week's installment, NPR covered the plight of the sturgeon and the people who once depended on the caviar fishery.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More newspaper coverage of our Colvard Spring restoration project to help protect the Endangered coldwater darter

The Dalton Daily Citizen ran an article on Wednesday, October 27 about our ongoing efforts to restore Colvard Spring. This tiny spring which feeds into the nearby Conasauga River is home to the imperiled coldwater darter. This is one of only a handful of locations in the world where this tiny fish is found.

The coolest thing about this story is the cooperation between conservation groups and private landowners. We are working together to restore this spring and help improve the habitat for darters (and for people!).


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Home Makeover for Coldwater Darters

This month, we're working in Colvard Spring, GA, with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Nongame Division and the Conasauga River Alliance on our habitat restoration project for the coldwater darter. Giving them a new home involves carpet! Wondering about how recycling your carpet helps darters? Read the great article we've linked to from the Chattanooga Times Free Press!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fish DNA

Whenever I talk about sequencing fish DNA, I feel like I belong in a science fiction novel. However, studying the genes of a species is pretty easy these days, and it's a very helpful step in most conservation projects. Our first goal is to learn more about the genetic diversity in a species. Genetic diversity is all the variation in the genes of organisms and is a very important component of biodiversity. If a species has a higher genetic diversity, that means it is more likely to have a large population size and be able to adapt to changes in the environment. Therefore, knowing some basic information about the pattern of genetic diversity across populations helps us know which populations are stable and which need some help.

This week, we were most interested in studying Conasauga logperch that we captured in August with our partners, Conservation Fisheries, Inc. This species is extremely rare and only lives in about 30 miles of the mainstem Conasauga River. Previous genetic analyses on this species indicate it has a very high genetic diversity compared to close relatives. If so, that's definitely something that needs preservation with the species. So we're sequencing more genes right now to understand why a species with such a small population has maintained a high genetic diversity. We're hoping that having a little bit more information on its genetic diversity will help us create a better captive propagation program for them. Stay tuned as we learn more about this darter!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Innovations in waste reduction- replacing polystyrene

Here's a link to a great Ted Talk on an innovative and "green" way to reduce polystyrene (styrofoam) packaging from ending up in our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

It's great to see entrepeneurs that identify environmental problems and create a novel approach to fix them!


Friday, October 1, 2010

Free, Safe, Easy, Confidential Disposal of Unwanted Pharmaceuticals:

This Saturday, Chattanooga area residents have an opportunity to dispose of unused, expired, or unneeded pharmaceuticals in a socially and environmentally safe manner (anonymously and for free!). This drug disposal program, with support from government and non-profit groups, will collect any unwanted medications or personal care products from local residents for disposal in the most environmentally safe and socially responsible manner.

Disposal of medications in this responsible fashion prevents them from 1) ending up in our environment or water supply; 2) being accidentally consumed by a child; 3) being taken after their expiration date; 4) being deliberately consumed in an abusive fashion by the wrong person. This program and programs like it are gaining in popularity nationwide as more and more research shows that trace levels of medication are ending up in our natural ecosystem and our water supplies. These chemicals, even in very low concentrations can wreak havoc on plants and animals, and may have negative effects on humans with prolonged exposure (even at trace levels). The best way to prevent these chemicals from negatively effecting our environment is to have the proper authorities dispose of them at specialized facilities.

Please see below for additional details and links.

Where: East Chattanooga Weed and Seed Office
1502 McCallie Avenue
Chattanooga, TN 37404

When: Saturday October 16, 2010 from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm

Instructions: Please bring medications in original containers if possible with personal information removed or crossed out. Leave medication name/information visible.

They will be accepting: prescription AND over-the-counter medications, lotions, fragrances, vitamins, cosmetics, etc.

They will NOT be accepting: IV bags, sharps and needles, and radioactive medications.

More Info:

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Great Day on the Emory!

Some days seem a lot more like fun than work! On Thursday, TNACI staff got to guide Alexandra Cousteau and her National Geographic Expedition Blue Planet Team on the Emory River. We spent the morning in Watts Bar Reservoir, catching fish and talking about the long-term impacts of the coal ash spill. We caught a few fish with infections while we were there, an indication that there is still environmental stress. TVA has finished Phase I of the clean-up—approximately 85% of the spilled ash was removed from the reservoir. The crew filmed interviews about our research on the spill and helped us catch and release the fish.

In the afternoon, we got to show off one of our most scenic parts of Tennessee. We headed upstream on the Emory River in the National Wild and Scenic River portion. We snorkeled for four hours there, saw over 30 species of fish, and found two darters that hadn't been documented that far upstream before! The only thing we couldn’t find was a hellbender… I guess we had to leave a reason for Alexandra to come back!

You can follow along with her expedition at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/water. It is a web-based expedition and they post new photos and videos almost daily!

Monday, September 20, 2010

TNACI Page on Facebook!

In an effort to reach as many people as possible with southeastern aquatic conservation news and resources, we have created a Facebook page. Please "like" this page and share it with your friends.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lake sturgeon tagging

As anyone who has ever spent time near our lake sturgeon touch tank knows, sturgeon aren’t covered in scales like most fish. Instead, they have five rows of bony scutes on their back and sides which are made of a substance called ganoin. These rigid plates act as a suit of armor for the fish, especially for young sturgeon where the scutes are still sharp- the scutes wear down as the fish ages and become smaller in relation to the body size of the sturgeon.

Scientists and fisheries managers use these scutes to keep track of the age of sturgeon that we raise and reintroduce into the wild. Every fish that leaves our TNACI facility has a specific scute removed to identify the age of the fish. On odd-numbered years (i.e. 2007, 2009) we remove a lateral scute from the right side of the fish; on even years we remove lateral scutes from the left side of the fish. That way, when a scientist captures a fish from the river, he or she can run their fingers down the lateral scutes of the fish, and identify the soft spot where a scute has been removed. By counting how many scutes back from the head of the fish to where the missing scute is, the scientist can identify which year the fish was born and use this data in conjunction with length and weight measurements to judge how fast the fish has grown.

The scute removal process is inexpensive and quick, but it does not allow for identification of individual fish and over many years, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell which scute was removed because the remaining scutes will migrate together and partially fill in the gap. Next week, we will talk about another tagging method we use that allows for identification of individual fish called “PIT” tagging.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The hellbender, the largest salamander found in N. America, is found in cool, clear, fast flowing streams from New York to northern Georgia and westward to Arkansas and Missouri. The species is divided into two subspecies, with the Ozark hellbender occupying a very small range in the White River Drainage in Missouri and Arkansas. The Ozark hellbender species (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) was listed last week as a candidate species for listing as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. This species, which occupies a much smaller range than the closely related Eastern hellbender is in serious decline and has become extremely rare in the wild. Like many aquatic species, causes of decline are believed to include poor land management leading to siltation in the watershed, impoundments, and chemical pollution from industry and agriculture. In an unusual move, the Service also cited legal (for scientific purposes) and illegal harvest (poaching) as a major threat to the viability of this subspecies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the species is in enough trouble to consider giving it the highest level of federal protection. Now that the Ozark hellbender is being considered for protected status, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment from concerned parties regarding potential listing. This is a required step in which scientists, stakeholders, and representatives from concerned governmental and non-governmental agencies may present additional data or comments as the Service considers listing status.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Pallid Sturgeon Listed as Threatened by USFWS

On Wednesday of this week, an interesting ruling was issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding two species we have on display at the Tennessee Aquarium. The two species are the shovelnose and the pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus and S. albus respectively) and they are exhibited in the Reelfoot Lake tank in the Tennessee River Gallery. These very similar looking fish, both belonging to the same genus, are found in portions of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Both species prefer similar big river habitat and can be found inhabiting the same stretches of river. The larger of the two species, the pallid sturgeon, has been listed as “Endangered” by the USFWS since 1990, receiving the highest level of protection. The smaller shovelnose sturgeon whose population is in much better shape, is not deemed to need protection- in fact, a commercial fishery exists in some states for the harvest of shovelnose sturgeon for their roe (eggs) used to make caviar. According to the recent ruling, however, shovelnose sturgeon will be listed as “Threatened” for the portions of their range that overlaps the range of the pallid sturgeon prohibiting all commercial fishing for this species for large parts of pallid sturgeon range. This ruling goes in to effect as of October of this year under a Similarity of Appearance clause in the Endangered Species Act (50 CFR 17.50).

Pallid and shovelnose sturgeon sometimes appear so similar that even trained scientists have difficulty distinguishing some members of each species from the other. There have been documented cases where commercial fishermen unknowingly harvested endangered pallid sturgeon. A small pallid sturgeon could easily be mistaken for a shovelnose, and a large shovelnose sturgeon could easily be mistaken for a pallid. Because of the difficulty in visually distinguishing the two species in the wild, federal regulators felt that it is necessary to prohibit take of both species in order to protect the critically endangered pallid sturgeon.


TNACI Husbandry Systems

At the TNACI facility, in Cohutta, Georgia, we have a very different system to supply the animals in our care with clean water than what is used at the Tennessee Aquarium or the ACF. Unlike the water recirculating systems at the Aquarium that reuse the same water with the help of complex filtration systems, our systems are known as flow-thru systems. That means that water is only passes through our tanks one time before it leaves our tanks and flows down a drain. We are able to do this because the facility at Cohutta that we share with the University of Georgia was built next to a spring that provides the whole facility with a constant supply of clean, cool, clear water ideal for keeping sturgeon healthy and happy. We “borrow” the water passing through the facility only briefly before it leaves our tanks and flows into a creek adjoining the property which eventually flows into the Conasauga River. Water is supplied to our tanks from the spring by gravity, and we only minimally filter the water to remove large objects (like sticks, twigs, snails, crayfish) before it enters into our tanks. This system has a few advantages, like being inexpensive, low-maintenance, and easy to maintain. We don’t rely on electricity to power any pumps, so if the power goes out, our fish still receive clean, flowing water without relying on backup power generators. One drawback to this system is the lack of control of temperature. In the winter time, water temperatures in our tanks can drop into the low 40s. The fish do fine, but they barely grow at all when the temperatures drop.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer Field Work

TNACI scientists have been busy the past two weeks taking advantage of summer’s long days, warm weather, and clear skies. Last week, Lee Friedlander joined two graduate students from Tennessee Tech to survey the French Broad River for lake sturgeon. We used an electro-fishing boat to use electric current to temporarily stun any fish in the vicinity of the boat as it motors downstream next to the bank. When the fish are stunned, they float to the surface where they can be identified and recorded. Any lake sturgeon would have been netted on to the boat and measured before being released back into the water. The team was able to survey two of the three planned sites before bad weather ended the day early. Some of the species we identified in our survey included three species of redhorse, spotted suckers, smallmouth buffalo, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, four species of sunfish, and common carp- but no lake sturgeon! Is this a bad sign? Should we assume that because we did not find any lake sturgeon that there are not many lake sturgeon in the river despite our ongoing stocking efforts? Probably not- the Tennessee River is a big river system with miles and miles of available habitat. The only way for us to observe a lake sturgeon is to be sampling at the right place, at the right time. That’s a pretty tall order in a river system covering so much area.

Though we may have been “skunked” in our recent lake sturgeon sampling efforts, our work with a very different species the following week, the Conasauga logperch, had a lot more success. Conasauga logperch are a federally protected species known to only inhabit a 27 mile section of the Conasauga River in southeastern Tennessee and extreme northern Georgia. Conasauga logperch are habitat specialists, only inhabiting deeper pools with sandy bottoms with small stones usually just downstream of a faster moving riffles. These extremely rare fish feed by using their snouts to flip over small stones on the river bottom to look for tiny invertebrates to feed on. TNACI staff were joined in our search by biologists from the U.S. Forest Service and from Conservation Fisheries, Inc. We searched for these fish by snorkeling in the Conasauga River targeting areas with habitat where we knew we would likely find our target species. Because the water in this area is relatively clear, our team of snorkelers could locate fish relatively quickly…if they were there, we were pretty likely to find them. The first site we sampled turned up no Conasauga logperch, but at the second site, slightly downstream we were able to collect 11 individuals. As far as we know, this may have been the highest number of Conasauga logperch ever observed in a single day! Eight of these fish were sent off to our partner, Conservation Fisheries’ facility near Knoxville, TN for a propagation project. A small genetic sample was taken from the remaining three captured fish for genetic analysis and those fish were then returned to the river.

Compared to our efforts to find lake sturgeon, we had a lot more success finding Conasauga logperch. Does this mean that there are a lot more Conasauga logperch in the Conasauga River than there are lake sturgeon in the Tennessee River? Almost certainly not! It just means that with the right planning, Conasauga logperch may be easier to detect than lake sturgeon given their different habitats and behavior.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Terms and Definitions from the Endangered Species Act

In 1973 the federal government passed a law stating that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was tasked with preserving wildlife by protecting species at risk of extinction. This law, called the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) gave authority to the USFWS to protect declining species and the habitat critical to their survival. Within this law, many terms were defined that are used to discuss conservation activities. Below we have listed a few of these commonly used terms with a brief definition (www.fws.gov/endangered).

Endangered species- an animal or plant species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
Ex: Pallid sturgeon populations have been decimated in the Mississippi River and are now federally protected.

Threatened species- an animal or plant likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
Ex: Loggerhead sea turtles have seen dramatic population declines from human habitat encroachment along nesting beaches and accidental entrapment in commercial fishing nets.

Imperiled species- also known as a ‘species of concern’. An informal term referring to a species that needs conservation action. This may or may not mean the species will be considered for listing in the future by USFWS.
Ex: The Eastern hellbender- populations in some areas are healthy while other areas have seen steep declines from historical levels. Scientists are monitoring the health of hellbender populations.

Extirpated species- a species that no longer survives in regions that were once part of its native range. This species still exists elsewhere in the wild or in captivity.
Ex: Lake sturgeon were extirpated from Tennessee water’s in the 1960s. Since then a re-introduction program has helped restore them to area waters.

Extinct species- a species that is no longer believed to exist alive in the wild or in captivity.
Ex: Passenger pigeons are believed to have been hunted to extinction. The last known individual died in 1914.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Growing fish

June is a busy month at TNACI. Each year in early June we receive thousands of lake sturgeon fry from Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery to grow out for release into the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Together with our partner hatcheries all across the Southeast, we have already released over 90,000 fish back into Tennessee waters. Each year we are able to reintroduce larger and larger numbers of fish. Our fish arrived from Warm Springs with an average weight of 0.082 grams and a total length of 28.5 mm. As of last week, the fish have reached an average weight of 0.27 grams. This may not seem like much, but this 0.19 gram increase is an increase of over 235% in size!

Not all our fish grow at the same rate though. Some fish are doubling in size every two weeks while others seem to barely grow at all at first. This keeps us busy grading (sorting) fish into tanks with other like-sized individuals. We try to keep fish with others of similar size so that we can efficiently offer them the right sized foods and to prevent the bullying of smaller fry by larger ones. As the fish get bigger, we are able to offer them larger and more nutritious feeds. Depending on their size, each tank (there are five right now, but we’ll eventually have eight or more) is fed a different combination of newly hatched brine shrimp, chopped frozen bloodworms, frozen Cyclop-eeze, and a commercially made fish feed in pellet form.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sturgeon Season Starts!

The sturgeon have arrived! Last week, we picked up over 4,000 baby lake sturgeon from the Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery in Georgia. A little over a month ago, USFWS staff transported back fertilized eggs from lake sturgeon that were spawning in Wisconsin. During their month at Warm Springs, the fish hatched, absorbed nutrients from their yolk sac, and began eating. We pick up our fish after they have undergone a month-long quarantine process. Right now, they are feeding on brine shrimp, chopped bloodworms, and some very tiny commerical fish chow. Most of these fish will be released in October or November this fall when they are at least six inches in length.

We just released 25 large lake sturgeon in Chattanooga and have been receiving reports of their whereabouts in Lake Chickamauga! Leave us a comment if you see one while out fishing.