Albuquerque--With government agencies concentrating their attention on federally protected native fish in the Gila River Basin, the status of five other native fish has deteriorated to the point where these species also now need federal protection, according to a new report by the Desert Fishes Team, an independent group of current and retired agency and academic fishery biologists. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today posted this publicly-released report on their website to make it widely available.
Two-thirds of Gila Basin native fish are already listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. In its latest report, the Desert Fishes Team looks at the seven native fish not yet listed under the ESA: the longfin dace, Sonora sucker, flannelmouth sucker, desert sucker, speckled dace, machete, and striped mullet. The team concluded that unless immediate steps are taken to aid the recovery of these native fish populations the first five of seven also merit listing under the ESA.
The report, entitled Status of Unlisted Native Fishes of the Gila River Basin, sets out specific actions needed to secure recovery of the fish. According to the report, the most urgent need is for control and removal of nonnative fish that compete with and eat the native species.
"Our crisis management mentality with regard to our desert rivers almost guarantees that we will simply lurch from crisis to crisis," stated Southwest PEER Coordinator Leon Fager, a long-time threatened and endangered species biologist for the U.S. Forest Service. "Unless we start managing for recovery before native stocks face the threat of extinction, we are only slowing, not stopping, the bleeding."
Six Gila River basin fish species are already gone from the basin and another six are listed as in danger by federal and state agencies. In an earlier report, the Desert Fishes Team documented the lack of successful recovery actions by the responsible wildlife protection, land management and water resource agencies for federally listed Gila fish stocks and the failure of agency promises for follow-through.
The deteriorating situation for desert fish is not confined to Arizona's Gila River basin. No species of fish in the southwest is doing well and many are rapidly sliding toward extinction.
These reports are prepared by the independent Desert Fishes Team to continue work of an international scientific advisory group, the Desert Fishes Recovery Team, that the Fish and Wildlife Service disbanded, declaring its work "complete."