Release of State‑Endangered Fish Aims to Boost Species’ Population in the Northeast
In a collaborative effort to restore Gilt Darter populations in the Allegheny River Watershed, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and partners today released approximately 1,200 Gilt Darter (Percina evides) juveniles into the Allegheny River and Oswayo Creek in Cattaraugus County in western New York.
“Today’s effort is a positive step forward in restoring this species to its historic range, as well as increasing the diversity of our aquatic ecosystems,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “This stocking event represents a milestone in the recovery of Gilt Darters in New York and culminates years of collaborative fishery restoration efforts.”
“One of the Service’s goals is to work toward fully functional and sustainable landscapes,” said David Stilwell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This multi-agency effort to re-introduce gilt darters to the Allegheny River in New York brings us one step closer to restoring the natural heritage of this wonderful river. We look forward to working together in partnership on future projects in the Allegheny watershed.”
“SUNY Cobleskill faculty, staff and students are all very proud of our contribution to this collaborative effort to conserve and restore the Allegheny River ecosystem,” said Dr. John Foster, Professor and Chair of the Fisheries and Wildlife Department at SUNY Cobleskill. “This challenging and important project has provided a broad spectrum of opportunities for SUNY Cobleskill’s Fisheries & Aquaculture students to learn from and work with fisheries biologists from the NYSDEC, PA Fish & Boat Commission and Conservation Fisheries Incorporated.”
According to John Arway, Executive Director of the PA Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC), “The inter-state cooperation in fisheries science and management supporting this project has been exceptional and should advance the recovery of the gilt darter and other rare species in the region. These efforts exemplify the “Resource First” philosophy of the PFBC’s mission and we are pleased to have contributed.”
Classified by New York State as an endangered fish species, the Gilt Darter has been identified as a priority species for recovery efforts. Today’s release marks the first time that Gilt Darters have been stocked in New York waters, and represents a five-year cooperative restoration effort between US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Conservation Fisheries Inc. and SUNY Cobleskill. The stocking sites are located near Olean and Portville, New York and near South Carrolton on the Seneca Nation of Indian’s Reservation.
The species is found 20 miles south in Pennsylvania but has been absent from New York for the past 75 years. In addition to their history in the Allegheny watershed, Gilt Darters occur in parts of the Appalachians and in the Midwest. Fish surveys have shown them to exist in only 12 states.
Averaging two to three inches in length and occasionally reaching 4 inches, the Gilt Darter is a small-sized fish. In early summer, Gilt Darter males undergo a brilliantly colorful phase and develop striking yellow black and green shades across their back, explaining why their latin name means “attractive.” Gilt darters are bottom feeders and eat a variety of invertebrates including aquatic insect larvae and crustaceans.
In addition to stocking, restoration of this species in New York includes understanding and protecting their critical habitats. While the exact cause for the fish’s decline is unknown, biologists attribute its decline in New York State to water quality deterioration and past siltation. Subsequent improvements in water quality and land use conservation practices bode well for the future survival of these fish. DEC will continue to monitor the status of Gilt Darters in the Allegheny River Watershed and is hopeful that this new population within the Allegheny watershed will become successfully established.
More information about Gilt Darters can be found on DEC’s website http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/26039.html.
Logo courtesy New York Department of Environmental Conservation