Imperiled Redhorse rides again in Georgia waters

This article combines information from the Georgia DNR, Ms. Robin Hill GA DNR Public Affairs Coordinator, Private research, and the Broad River Watershed Association.
Edited by Bill Byrd.

GA DNR: SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. January 11, 2002. A landmark conservation agreement has been signed improving the status of the robust redhorse (image of male Robust Redhorse above from the Broad River Watershed Association) by restoring this rare fish to the Ocmulgee River between Lloyd Shoals and Juliette dams in central Georgia. The Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) was developed as a collaborative effort among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), plus Georgia Power, and is a new and innovative approach to restoring imperiled species.

BYRD: The following is background from GA DNR, principal investigators Cecil A. Jennings, Jay Shelton (Univ. of Georgia), and Greg Looney (USFWS) in research and study funded by the Georgia Power Company.

The Robust redhorse (Moxostoma robustum) are large (maximum total length 760 mm), riverine catostomids. The robust redhorse, a large sucker only known from large rivers along the south Atlantic Coast, was initially described from the Yadkin River, North Carolina in 1869. These fish were thought to be extinct for more than 120 years, but were rediscovered in the Oconee River in a 50 mile section between Milledgeville and Dublin, Georgia by personnel from Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR) during the summer of 1991. In October 1997, a single adult individual was caught in the Savannah River below the New Savannah River Bluff Lock and Dam by GA DNR personnel.

Eventually, a second population of robust redhorse was discovered in the Savannah River near Augusta, Georgia. Historically, these fish inhabited medium to large rivers in the southeastern Atlantic slope, from the Pee Dee River system in North Carolina to the Altamaha River system in Georgia. Currently, populations in the Oconee and Savannah rivers are the only known surviving populations. The Oconee River population is comprised of mostly older individuals, and concerns among biologists from private, state, and federal agencies about possible recruitment failure and eventual extinction of the species led to the formation of the Robust Redhorse Conservation Committee (RRCC). The RRCC, established in 1995 by a Memorandum of Understanding signed by GA DNR, Georgia Power Company (GPC), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Geological Survey (among others), took a pre-listing approach for organizing and developing conservation strategies to recover this species. Short term goals of the RRCC are to protect and manage the remaining populations and establish captive-breeding populations through artificial propagation. Long-term goals include the establishment of refugial populations in suitable river systems within the species' former range.

GA DNR: "The completion of the CCAA and the stocking of robust redhorse in the Ocmulgee River marks a major milestone in the conservation efforts by restoring the fish to a section of the Ocmulgee River where it likely occurred historically," said David Waller, Director for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division. "This historic event also signals significant progress in the voluntary, active conservation of an imperiled species."

"This is the first CCAA to be implemented in the Southeast and only the second in the nation. It is also the first CCAA involving a private company and the first CCAA to be developed for an aquatic species. In return for taking specific conservation actions to recover the robust redhorse, Georgia Power will receive assurances regarding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act in the event that this species is listed in the future."

BYRD: What does this mean to us as fly fishers, plus Georgia and US Citizens? This action demonstrates that private, public, and business entities can actually join together to actively save and rebuild populations of species right on the brink of extinction. At best the species is rescued, thrives, replicates, and secures its future for years to come.

If problems so complex can be dealt with, then solutions for simpler, impactful problems will surely be at hand.