After three years of stocking efforts — and an unusually wet start to 2005 — silvery minnows had a good run this spring in the Middle Rio Grande. Now, as the river recedes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that more of the endangered fish can legally be allowed to die.
Biologists found millions of the four-inch fish this spring — but this summer, as the river dwindled, they counted far more dead minnows than were allowed under the "incidental take" numbers set by the Service. Rather than ordering more water, officials upped the allowable take from 760 minnows to 10,440.
Ironically, the increased take may allow the Service to stock minnows for the first time in the San Acacia reach of the river, south of Albuquerque. In the past, officials feared intermittent flows in that reach could cause fish losses to exceed legal take limit s (HCN, 8/28/00: Shaky truce on the Rio Grande ). "(The San Acacia reach) is the center of the universe for the silvery minnow now — why not maintain and rebuild the population down there?" says Jim Brooks, project leader of the Service’s Fisheries Resources Office.
Changing the take numbers could also make room for other changes to the agency’s 2003 minnow plan. That plan was supposed to remain in effect for 10 years, according to a provision in a rider passed by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. (HCN, 8/4/03: Truce remains elusive in Rio Grande water fight). "(Domenici’s law had) made it very difficult to challenge what they’re doing on the river," says Letty Belin, an attorney who represents conservationists on behalf of the minnow. Now, she says that in her view, Domenici’s provision — and the 10-year requirement it created — no longer apply.