RALEIGH, N.C. (Oct. 10, 2023) – It’s a little fish, only 6 to 8 inches in length. But the Roanoke Logperch made a very big splash today. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) is reintroducing this tiny, endangered species to the upper Mayo River in Rockingham County.
In October 2022, the NCWRC received a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to reintroduce this species. A private landowner, The Piedmont Land Conservancy, agreed to allow NCWRC access to its property. The Mayo River State Park assisted in today’s restocking effort, filling in one more puzzle piece to this restoration process.
“Today is a great day for the Roanoke Logperch,” said NCWRC Assistant Chief of Inland Fisheries Rachael Hoch. “We get the opportunity to partner with private property owners like Piedmont Land Conservancy to reintroduce this imperiled species back home— a place it hasn’t seen in over 100 years. This reintroduction is timely, and if successful, it will help to fully recover the species and ultimately lead to delisting the species.”
The fish were spawned by Conservation Fisheries Inc. (CFI) and grown to stocking size at one of NCWRC’s hatcheries, the Marion Conservation Aquaculture Center in McDowell County. They were placed in their new home earlier today in efforts to repopulate this portion of the Mayo River.
Roanoke Logperch live in waterbodies primarily along the Virginia and North Carolina border in the Chowan and Roanoke River basins. It’s the only place they can be found in the entire world.
“Roanoke Logperch have lived in North Carolina and Virginia for centuries,” said Thomas “TR” Russ, a fisheries biologist at NCWRC. “They have fought their way back from near extinction. They have done their part to recolonize most of the Dan River. Now it is our turn to help them get back to their home in the upper Mayo River.”
Biologists have identified sedimentation, channel modification and instream barriers such as dams for limiting the species’ ability to recolonize. Increased sediment affects the species’ ability to forage for food. Dams prevent migration back to their natural habitats in the upper Mayo River. So, the fish were stocked upstream of the Washington Mill and Avalon dams in the Mayo River. Biologists say the location has the highest quality habitat in the upper Mayo River.
NCWRC biologists will track and monitor the stocked fish annually by backpack-electrofishing, seining (a netting process to safely capture fish) and/or with visual observations via snorkel and mask.
NCWRC biologists say the biggest obstacles to fully restoring the species are water quality issues and dams. But there has been progress to these challenges. In 2020, Lindsey Bridge Dam near Madison was lowered, and multiple fish weirs were installed, which slows water flow to allow fish to travel and decreases bank erosion. This has opened 50 river miles for natural recolonization throughout the upper Dan River in Stokes County.
Roanoke Logperch is one of the first species being reintroduced through a 50-year Safe Harbor Agreement between the USFWS and NCWRC that includes 21 imperiled aquatic species. The NCWRC can extend the assurances of the Safe Harbor Agreement to enrolled non-federal property owners for species reintroduction. This project is one example of the vital support of private landowners and dam owners on species conservation efforts.
Since 2019, NCWRC, USFWS, CFI, and Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources have been working toward saving Roanoke Logperch from extinction and have made significant progress. Targeted surveys, dam removals and propagation and augmentations have greatly improved the status of this rare fish.
"The Service's partnership with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has been essential in the efforts to reintroduce the Roanoke Logperch to its native habitat," said Janet Mizzi, a USFWS field supervisor for the Asheville Ecological Services Field Office. "This exciting project is one of many we will continue to celebrate this year for the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Today, hundreds of species are stable or improving because of the collaborative efforts of Tribes, federal agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations, and private citizens."
For more information on Roanoke Logperch and restoration efforts visit Restoring Aquatic Species to North Carolina.