NEOSHO, Mo. —
It’s early in the planning stage, but the Neosho National Fish Hatchery may be used to help bring the endangered Topeka shiner fish back from the brink of extinction.
The Topeka shiner is a minnow, now found in two creeks in Missouri, said Jerry Wiechman, fisheries management biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. He works out of the Pony Express Conservation Area in Osborn.
He said one creek is in Harrison County in northwest Missouri. The other is Moniteau Creek in central Missouri. The minnows once lived in a third creek, in Columbia, but they haven’t been seen in that creek since 1990.
Wiechman said there are more Topeka shiners in Moniteau Creek than in northwest Missouri.
Wiechman last week held his first meeting with the hatchery manager, David Hendrix, and other staffers at the Neosho National Fish Hatchery about the possibility of raising the shiners there for possible reintroduction into Missouri streams.
“We had our first meeting about that,” Wiechman said. “We’re evaluating the idea of using the hatchery. We’ll work on a recovery plan and reintroduce them into some of the watersheds.”
He said there are a few details to be worked out first. The hatchery uses cool spring water, but the shiner is a warm-water fish. The oxygen level of the water also needs to be precise. Also, the hatchery needs to determine if it can accommodate the Topeka shiner in addition to the other fish species raised there.
“It looks like there’s some good potential,” Wiechman said.
He said the Conservation Department currently has some Topeka shiners at the Lost Valley Hatchery in Warsaw.
Wiechman said some people question why the state would put resources into a small minnow species.
“This is a representative of the aquatic community in prairie headwater streams,” he said. “Those aquatic communities have really been altered, and there’s not a lot of them left. Another reason is that as we expand the habitat of these Topeka shiners, we can potentially make them so they’re not endangered.”
He said the Department of Conservation has some ideas about locations where the fish may be able to survive.
Wiechman said there are studies about why the Topeka shiner is disappearing, but they don’t point to a specific culprit. He said in general, the fish disappears where human activity increases, whether it is urban or agricultural activity.
According to a fact sheet published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Topeka shiner’s traditional territory has included portions of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and South Dakota.
“The species is now primarily restricted to a few scattered tributaries to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and the Flint Hills region of Kansas,” the fact sheet reads.
It also links the fish’s disappearance to human activity.
“The Topeka shiner is susceptible to water quality changes within its habitat and has disappeared from several sites because of increased sedimentation resulting from accelerated soil runoff,” according to the fact sheet. “Any activity which removes the natural protective vegetation covering within a stream’s watershed may contribute to this factor, including agricultural cropping, urban development and highway construction.”
Hendrix, at the Neosho National Fish Hatchery, said he looks forward to the possibility of working with the Department of Conservation on the project.
“It would be wonderful,” he said. “It’s always great to team up and develop relationships with our partners in the state and federal government. We’re excited about that. It’s also an opportunity to educate the public about the Topeka shiner and how it’s threatened.”
He said it would be exciting if the hatchery could play a role in the minnow’s recovery.
No time frame has been established for starting the project.
THE NEOSHO NATIONAL FISH HATCHERY now raises rainbow trout, pallid sturgeon, the endangered Ozark cavefish, the endangered fat mucket mussel and the freshwater drum.