Although once common in Iowa’s bayous along the Mississippi River, anglers have not seen longear sunfish in the state for more than eight decades. The fish’s long absence may have ended this month however, after employees at the Fairport Fish Hatchery captured what scientists believe could be a longear.
“If this proves to be a longear sunfish it will be the first time since 1932 the species has been positively identified in Iowa,” said Iowa Department of Natural Resrouces fisheries technician Adam Thiese in a press release.
Thiese captured the first specimen earlier this month near Muscatine, where the longear sunfish thrived until the early twentieth century. The fish was found in one of the 18 ponds at the Fairport hatchery during a routine draining. After finding the first specimen, hatchery staff drained additional ponds and found another two fish believed to be male longear. For safekeeping, the three fish were taken out of the ponds and put into an aquarium at the hatchery, where scientists are now in the process of confirming whether or not they actually are longear sunfish.
“How it got here and where it came from remains to be determined. For those that work in the fisheries field, both state and nationally, anytime an uncommon species can be documented, it’s an exciting discovery,” Thiese said.
Experts told the Associated Press it is possible that someone had brought the fish into the state intentionally, or that recent flooding in the Mississippi River transported a small population of the species back into Iowa. Longear sunfish prefer shallow waters and tend to be found in small streams and rivers. On a national scale, the species is not considered at risk, but the fish has disappeared from many waterways across the United States as a result of habitat loss. While not that popular as a sport fish, many anglers have often marveled at the beauty of these brightly colored fish.
“The longear sunfish is one of the most beautiful freshwater fish there are,” said Keith Bryant Gido, a professor at Kansas State University studying fish biology and habitat. “The breeding male is just spectacular. They get this awesome orange crest on the back of their necks. It’s just a fantastic species.”