Donald J. Orth, Thomas H. Jones Professor of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech, would like to study that little fish in the creek in your backyard or on your farm.
Though it seems like an everyday kind of fish, that little yellow-finned minnow in your creek is rare and even may be a one-of-a-kind species. Orth and his students are searching for creeks in Virginia to research these minnows, and, if you do turn out to have a rare but unidentified species on your property, you may even get a hand in naming the fish.
“We are looking for people concerned about legacy and about learning themselves how to best take care of their creeks on their land to maintain good water and stream health. These minnows are very good indicators of how healthy the creek is. Besides being unique to your property, they also can help you take good care of your property,” comments Orth.
Orth and other scientists at Virginia Tech have been studying this undescribed species of minnow for over five years. Commonly referred to as the “Clinch Dace,” its closest relative is the Laurel Dace that occurs in only a few small tributaries on Walden Ridge in Bledsoe and Rhea Counties in eastern Tennessee.
The Clinch Dace was first collected in Mudlick Creek, Tazewell County, Virginia in 1999.
Surveys targeting Clinch Dace confirmed their distribution is limited to small headwater streams of the upper Clinch River basin in Tazewell and Russell Counties. Since its discovery, there have been at least 285 site surveys. All confirmed identifications come the portions of Russell and Tazewell counties that are in the bituminous coal field.
Despite 15 years of surveys, no work has begun regarding rehabilitation of any streams with Clinch Dace or Clinch Dace potential. Additionally, the abundance of Clinch Dace is low and populations of Clinch Dace occur in highly fragmented stream segments. This means you may find them along your property but your neighbors may not.
Potential threats to persistence of Clinch Dace include human wastes, non-native fish, livestock and agriculture waste, mining, culverts and other barriers, and bait harvest.
There are opportunities for rehabilitation of many of the small streams so they may support populations of Clinch Dace in the future. Currently, Dr. Orth’s Clinch Dace study is being supported by a State Wildlife Grant from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science, which works through an industrial affiliates’ model for pro-active energy and environmental research in Appalachia.
To learn more about the Clinch Dace or to learn more about how to shield the Clinch Dace on your property, contact Donald J. Orth, Thomas H. Jones Professor at Don_Orth@vt.edu