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News: Citizen Scientists Track Frecklebelly Madtom and Clean Up the Strong River

 

January 15, 2019

Plan B... A Huge Success for The Garden Club of Jackson

For the past 10 years, The Garden Club of Jackson (GCJ) and members of Garden Club of America (GCA) clubs in Greenville, Natchez, and Laurel, Mississippi, as well as Monroe, Louisiana, have taken a conservation canoe trip on the Strong River —a spring-fed free-flowing river without major industry along its banks—to collect garbage. But in 2016 the river was too low for canoeing and the club needed an alternative project, a good Plan B. Enter the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

Working with Matt Wagner, the Mississippi State Ichthyologist, along the Strong River, club members assisted an ongoing project collecting fish samples. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is specifically looking for the federally threatened Pearl Darter, the state endangered Crystal Darter and the Frecklebelly Madtom. All are under review for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Frecklebelly Madtom is considered an indicator species, which functions as an early warning system for environmental problems that could result in the collapse of the food chain. Because the Madtom is riverbed shoal dependent, if its habitats are disturbed, many other species of fish would be affected, too.

During the sample collection this September, Matt wore a backpack electrofishing unit and the club members held a 10’ seine in the river. Other members walked on either side of Matt, wearing waders, shuffling their feet to dislodge the 2 to 3-inch long fish from the gravel. The fish were stunned by the electric shock and netted. Matt collected and took them to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science where they were identified, counted, and measured. Some of the Frecklebelly Madtoms collected in 2017 were bred in captivity then released into the wild. Forty-five Madtoms collected in September 2018 are being implanted with microchips and will be returned to the Strong River. The goal is to track them in their natural habitat to learn more about their life cycle and territory range.

For the GCJ, Plan B is now in its third year. As the members splashed about in waders, a side benefit was education about the river, the fish, conservation, and the importance of this data collection. Mississippi is one of the five states with the greatest diversity of fish in the United States. And prior to the 1972 enactment of the Clean Water Act, the fish were in trouble because of agricultural runoff and dumping from chicken processing plants. Today, the river is cleaner and a better habitat for fish—but it has been a long recovery process.

                                                              

 

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