Rescuing fish


Wildlife biologists [last week evacuated] two species of minnows from the shrinking waters of a West Texas river in the first of what could be several rescue operations involving fish affected by the state’s worst drought in decades.

Smalleye shiners and sharpnose shiners, the species being collected from the Brazos River about 175 miles northwest of Fort Worth, will be taken to the state’s fish hatchery near Possum Kingdom Lake. When drought conditions abate, the minnows will be returned to the river.

Scorching conditions have left the water hot, muddy and salty in the river’s Clear, Double Mountain and Salt forks. Because of the drought, the water levels were so low this year that the minnows — candidates to be listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act — didn’t have the 100 miles of river needed to reproduce.

Their life span is just two years, so scientists are scrambling to save the two species, which wildlife officials say are the most abundant fish in the upper Brazos and are found nowhere else in the world.

“If this drought continues for another year and they haven’t reproduced . . . we may lose the entire population,” said Gene Wilde, a fish ecology professor at Texas Tech who has spent much of his life studying fish in West Texas rivers.

There are a couple of other examples of this kind of rescue, but it’s pretty rare. I suppose one can make the case – a couple of the story’s commenters try – that this is natural selection in action, and we have no business messing with it. I don’t accept that reasoning, partly because the presence of modern humans has an outsized and unnatural effect on the ecosystem anyway, and partly because there may be direct negative effects on the human population in the area if these species were to vanish; who knows what might happen to plants and other animals if these fish were to go extinct? I’m no bio-ethicist, but I approve of this action.

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