The sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner are small minnows that live only in prairie streams in the arid upper Brazos River watershed. The shiners – on a waiting list for federal protection for more than a decade – have been lost from more than half their historical range and now survive in only one highly endangered population. The Center petitioned to protect the two fish in 2004.
“These two unique Texas fish are staring extinction in the face, and I’m relieved that they now have the Endangered Species Act protection that will keep them from disappearing forever,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center.
The shiners are severely threatened by decreased water flows due to reservoirs, drought, groundwater pumping, salt cedar invasion and global climate change. The fishes nearly went extinct in 2011 when Texas experienced the worst drought on record and the upper Brazos ran dry. State fish biologists rescued shiners and held a small population in captivity until river flows returned the following year. Endangered Species Act protection will make greater funding available for activities to protect and restore the shiners.
The shiners need wide, shallow flowing water with sandy substrate. To reproduce, their eggs and larvae have to remain suspended in flowing water. If the water isn’t flowing fast enough, the eggs and juveniles sink to the bottom and die. Experiments have shown that the fish need flows of 92 to 227 cubic feet per second to reproduce. They also need at least 171 miles of undammed flowing water for the juveniles to reach maturity. The fishes only live for one to two years, so two years of drought could drive them to extinction.
The critical habitat protected for the fishes is found in Baylor, Crosby, Fisher, Garza, Haskell, Kent, King, Knox, Stonewall, Throckmorton and Young counties. Critical habitat designation requires federal agencies that fund or permit projects to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure their activities will not harm the fishes’ habitat. Scientific studies have shown that populations of endangered species with protected habitat are more than twice as likely to be improving as those without habitat protection.
The sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner have been on a waiting list for federal protection since 2002. In 2011 the Center and the Service reached a landmark agreement that will ensure all the species that were on the federal waiting list for protection as of 2010 will get protection decisions by 2018. So far under that agreement, 126 species have gained Endangered Species Act protection, including the two fish, and another 17 have been proposed for protection.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service is making excellent progress on addressing the backlog of plants and animals in need of protection like these Texas shiners,” said Curry. “Congress must now step up and give the Service the money it needs to fully recover our country’s endangered species.”