Freshwater Fishes Page
What is the role of the Nongame Conservation Section in fish conservation?
The Nongame Conservation Section has primary responsibility to meet the conservation, research and monitoring needs for Georgia’s nongame fishes; game fishes are managed by our Fisheries Management Section. We maintain a large database of fish distribution records, which is used in a variety of ways to protect fishes and aquatic habitats. For example, we routinely provide recommendations on how to minimize impacts associated with development, road construction, reservoir building and other activities that can negatively affect fish populations. Our data is also used to prioritize areas for conservation and to monitor trends of individual species. We provide our database records to NatureServe, which compiles data for global assessments of conservation status.
We are constantly updating the database with new information from fish survey and monitoring efforts. Our staff conducts targeted surveys for rare fishes, focusing on species that have not been extensively surveyed in the past or that are critically imperiled. Most of our data, however, comes from our collaborators such as the DNR Stream Survey Team, The Georgia Museum of Natural History, and a community of ichthyologists and fish biologists working in the state. Our data is available by watershed, county, and topo map to the general public on this website. There is also a procedure to request site-specific rare species information.
Protecting fish populations requires watershed-level conservation efforts, which is well beyond the capacity of our program. Protecting Georgia’s fishes depends upon the cooperation and effort of local governments, conservation groups, state and federal agencies, and everyday citizens. Some of the groups we routinely work with include but are not limited to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service-Ecological Services Office, Conasauga River Alliance, Conservation Fisheries, Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, The Georgia River Network, The Georgia Aquarium, The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, The United States Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, The Robust Redhorse Conservation Committee, The Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center and a variety of corporate partners and smaller watershed groups. One of our main roles, then, is to provide information about rare species that will facilitate conservation efforts by these groups. In addition to the information in our database, we have also developed species profiles for all of Georgia’s state and federally protected fishes.
Funding for research and conservation of nongame fishes
Our program supports research on Georgia’s freshwater fishes. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, through Section 6 of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, provides us with funding to meet conservation and research needs for federally protected fishes. For example, we have provided funds to scientists at the University of Georgia to carry out annual monitoring of federally protected fishes and their habitats in the Etowah and Conasauga River system since 1998. Another major source of support is the State Wildlife Grant Program, which can also be used to meet conservation needs for state protected and other high priority species identified in Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan. The Fishes of Georgia Atlas, which provides range maps and photos of Georgia Freshwater fishes, is an example of a project that was supported by a State Wildlife Grant. Other research projects and reports are posted on our Publications and Reports page. Almost all of the projects funded through the Nongame Conservation Section require matching funds or cost-share from a non-Federal source. Our most important source of match is the Nongame Conservation Fund, which is based solely on donations through the purchase of Nongame Licence Plates, the Give Wildlife a Chance Income Tax Checkoff, and a private fundraising event (Weekend for Wildlife).
Georgia's fish fauna is threatened by many factors
While Georgia’s fish fauna is very diverse, it is also highly threatened. Fifty-seven species are considered imperiled and are on Georgia’s protected animal list; 8 of these fishes are also protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Five species are considered extirpated from the state and may no longer occur in Georgia waters: Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi), the spotfin chub (Erimonax monachus), harelip sucker (Moxostoma lacerum), yellowfin madtom (Noturus flavipinnis), and the ashy darter (Etheostoma cinereum). Our fish fauna is threatened by a variety of factors including urbanization, poor landuse practices associated with historic and current agricultural and forestry operations, reservoirs, chemical pollution, and invasive species. Learn more on our aquatic threats page.
The spotfin chub (Erimonax monachus), one of five fish species that are considered extirpated from Georgia waters.
How can I learn to identify Georgia's fishes?
Our diverse fish fauna makes fish identification in Georgia challenging, even for ichthyologists. If you have a good photograph of a fish that you caught or observed underwater, you can usually get an approximate identification using a combination of photos and range maps. The Fishes of Georgia Atlas is an excellent source for range maps and will ultimately have photos of all of Georgia’s freshwater fishes and many coastal species as well. Our Rare Species Profiles page has photos and species descriptions of all state protected fishes. While it is illegal to capture these species without a permit, they are encountered by researchers and fish watchers in some of our clear North Georgia rivers. We have also developed a list of books and other taxonomic resources that will aid in the accurate identification of Georgia fishes. An electronic copy of a Field Guide to Fishes of the Conasauga River system can be downloaded here.
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