Endangered Fish Returned to Native Waters in Arizona

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Endangered fish return to native waters in ArizonaIt’s been a plan long in the making, but yesterday, the first Gila topminnow fish were reestablished in their native Arizona waters as part of a new program aimed at enlisting the help of non-federal landowners to conserve this endangered species.

A couple hundred fish were released into the TimBuckTwo pond near Amado, south of Tucson, on private land. The fish for this inaugural release came from Arizona State University (ASU), where breeding stock is maintained for the species. In addition to ASU, Desert Harbor Elementary School in Peoria also maintains a captive population of Gila topminnow.

“These fish were once common in southern Arizona below 5,200 feet, but populations declined due to habitat loss and competition from non-native species,” says Jeff Sorensen, native fish and invertebrate program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Today’s stocking is particularly important because these fish are of the rare Redrock lineage that only existed in captivity until today. This release will help us increase the numbers of this important lineage.”

While this is not the first reestablishment of Gila topminnow in Arizona, it is the first to occur as part of a new Safe Harbor Agreement. This program greatly increases the opportunities for private and non-federal landowners to participate in conservation and recovery efforts of endangered Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, Yaqui topminnow, and Quitobaquito pupfish by providing refuge sites. Most of the previous releases of Gila topminnow occurred on government or public-owned properties.

Endangered fish return to native waters in Arizona“We are pleased to add a third population of the Redrock lineage of Gila topminnow. It’s even more pleasing to accomplish it with conservation-minded landowners using this important tool to recover native fish in Arizona,” says Doug Duncan, a fish biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The reintroduction was carried out through a cooperative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Game and Fish and the landowners.

“As professional biologists, we realize the importance of the Gila topminnow as part of the ecosystem and the state’s wildlife resources. We are delighted to be able to participate, as private landowners, in the conservation efforts for this species and to do our part to ensure the continued presence of these fish in Arizona,” say Kathy Groschupf and Frank Baucom, owners of TimBuckTwo. 

Gila topminnows provide natural vector control, effectively preying on mosquito larvae and helping to control mosquito-borne illnesses. As a native species, they pose fewer threats to other species sharing the same habitat than non-native species that have been introduced in the past. 

These fish grow to approximately 2 inches long and are the only native fish in Arizona to give birth to live young. They prefer shallow, slow-moving waters, and they were once the most common fish species in the Gila River basin.