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Washington, DC — Federal recovery plans for imperiled fish in the rivers of the Southwest are frustrated by inter-agency conflict, according to a detailed analysis by a team of independent biologists released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The scientists found endangered and threatened fish of the Gila River basin in southern Arizona and western New Mexico continue to decline because key steps in approved recovery plans are not implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, particularly control of nonnative game fish managed by the state wildlife agencies which are supposed to be assisting in federal recovery plan implementation.

A recovery plan is a basic provision of the Endangered Species Act. It outlines the steps needed to prevent possible extinction of a federally-listed species and to restore a healthy self-sustaining species.

“The recovery plans are sound but the problem is that there is no consistent follow-through,” stated Dr. Paul Marsh of the Desert Fishes Team, a group of agency, academic, and non-government biologists monitoring conservation of native fishes of the southwest. “The conflicting mandate of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect native fish versus the state wildlife agencies’ promotion of sport fishing has stalemated effective actions in addressing root causes of the continuing deterioration in the status of the native species.”

The scientists’ analysis found that use of nonnative fish for sport fishing, aquaculture, and bio-control programs by state agencies now constitutes the principal barrier to recovery of warm water fishes in the Gila River basin, such as the desert pupfish, spikedace and Colorado pikeminnow, all of which are listed under federal law as threatened or endangered. The analysis documented that:

  • Despite having recovery plans in place for between 9 and 28 years, full, successful implementation has not been achieved for any of the eight listed fish species, and a moderate level of implementation has been achieved for only one (the Gila topminnow);
  • Progress for recovery of some species, such as the desert pupfish, “has been virtually non-existent”; and
  • The failure to remove nonnative sport and bait fish and other aquatic species, such as crayfish and bullfrogs, is preventing recovery of native fish populations.

“We’ve found that the federal Endangered Species Act will work provided it is followed,” added Jerome Stefferud, a team scientist. “The Act can save these eight fish species, but only if the agencies commit to rapid and effective implementation of the recovery plans.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot do its job unless it starts standing up to its state ‘partners,’” observed PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Arizona and New Mexico game agencies push introduction of exotic sport and bait fish to maximize fishing license revenue. “To add insult to injury, these state agencies are using federal dollars to screw up expensive federal recovery plans.”

Two earlier reports by the Desert Fishes Team reviewed the status of all native fish species in the Gila River basin. Those studies found that all of the fish were declining and that in addition to the nine already listed as endangered and threatened, another seven are now in need of that protection.


Read the Analysis of Recovery Plan Implementation for Threatened and Endangered Warm Water Fishes of the Gila River Basin (December 2006)

View this and earlier reports of the Desert Fishes Team

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