2022 bad year for silvery minnow; officials optimistic for upcoming season

By: - April 26, 2023 4:10 am
A person holds a silvery minnow.

Shoals of silvery minnows used to swim nearly 3,000 miles of the Rio Grande’s length from the Gulf of Mexico to Española, N.M., and along much of the Pecos River. The drought in 2022 prevented spawning and egg collection efforts for the endangered fish. (Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

2022 hit the silvery minnow hard.

Federal agencies said the flash-drying of 50 miles in June of last year caused further harm to the endangered silvery minnow populations at the Rio Grande Compact commission Friday.

Federal officials were unable to collect any eggs in 2022, and there was no successful spawn. 

This puts the short-lived fish on precipitous ground. The gap of an entire generation means the whole fish population loses out on genetic diversity.

“I dubbed it spawn or bust,” said Jennifer Faler, the area manager at the Bureau of Reclamation office in Albuquerque. “We really hit some alarm bells last year with the minnow population due to the hydrology.”

Faler said the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife services have a series of plans for different drought conditions. 

Rescuing silvery minnows like ‘slapping a Band-Aid on a severed limb’

Federal officials were optimistic that the higher flows and the addition of 129,000 hatchery fish will bail out the 2023 generation, but there’s another wrinkle. 

“Unfortunately, collecting eggs this year may actually be more difficult because the water is so high, but there are already ego monitors out in the river,” said Debra Hill, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist. “We’re really hopeful we’re going to get a spawn this year.”

Officials discussed the 2022 lawsuit brought by Santa Fe nonprofit WildEarth Guardians. A settlement session was extended from May 1 another 90 days. That period of talks between federal agencies and the nonprofit now ends in August.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife are assessing three other fish populations, the Rio Grande chub, the Rio Grande sucker and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout – all due in 2024.

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Danielle Prokop
Danielle Prokop

Danielle Prokop covers the environment and local government in Southern New Mexico for Source NM. Her coverage has delved into climate crisis on the Rio Grande, water litigation and health impacts from pollution. She is based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.