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Texas state fish recovers from extinction threat, flourishes again

 Guadalupe Bass
Guadalupe Bass

The comeback of the Guadalupe Bass due to efforts of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is a great success story.

You're probably familiar with the Texas state flower, the Bluebonnet, or the state bird, which is the mockingbird.

But did you know there's also a state fish? The Guadalupe bass, found only in clear streams and rivers in the central portion of Texas, almost disappeared 30 years ago. Its comeback, due to efforts of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, is a great success story.

Tim Birdsong is deputy director for the Inland Fisheries Division for Texas Parks and Wildlife, and is the force behind TPWD’s effort to bring the Texas state fish back from the brink of extinction.

He spoke with TPR’s Jerry Clayton. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Clayton: Tell me about the state of the Guadalupe bass 30 years ago.

Birdsong: Guadalupe bass were imperiled by introduction of non-native Smallmouth bass, which is another species of Black bass that's found primarily in the north, central and northeastern United States, where they're popular sport fish. They were introduced widely throughout North America. Biologists that introduced Smallmouth bass into Texas did not know that (they) would hybridize with our state fish, the Guadalupe bass.

It wasn't recognized quite yet as our state fish. But when large scale stockings of Smallmouth bass occurred in the mid to late 1970s, they quickly identified that this hybridization was occurring and we were going to lose our state fish. We did lose the fish from several rivers.

And so steps were taken to create a hatchery program and begin stocking Guadalupe bass throughout the native range. And at this point, we now have 15 different rivers where we have healthy, sustainable populations of Guadalupe bass. We have another 13 rivers, creeks and rivers where we're working to make sure that, Guadalupe bass are able to be restored and are around for future generations of anglers to experience.

Clayton: Can you describe the details of the program that was able to bring the Guadalupe bass back?

Birdsong: So the steps that were taken to restore Guadalupe bass were to initially stop stocking Smallmouth Bass within the native range. And in some rivers we've taken efforts to try to remove smallmouth bass and hybrids from the system through use of electrofishing and block nets, and one good example of that is the Blanco River, where under drought conditions back in 2011, we were able to successfully remove Smallmouth and hybrids from reach of the river upstream of a waterfall referred to as the Narrows.

And so we were able to then reintroduce Guadalupe bass that become sexually mature within a couple of years. And now from those stockings that occurred back in the 2012 and 2013 timeframe, we now have multiple generations of Guadalupe bass that are now back in the Blanco River and by the mid-1980s, Guadalupe bass had been extricated, just completely wiped out from the Blanco.

And that's a similar story for other rivers across Central Texas, where we've gone in, we've tried to remove hybrids and we've stocked genetically pure Guadalupe bass. We've then taken efforts to partner up with local communities and riverside landowners to do habitat restoration projects to benefit the species.

They really need these vegetated shorelines. They need trees that provide shade and help regulate some of the extreme temperatures throughout the summer, and they need streams that have inputs of tree limbs and logs and structures that they use as habitat. They need boulders. So we're able to implement habitat improvements that meet the habitat requirements of the species, so they can they can spawn and they have habitats to use.

For example, adult Guadalupe bass like to hang out downstream of boulders or large, large wood. They find these refuge from the the velocity of the currents of the river that they'll dart out into the current to attack any sort of prey that's passing by in the current.

Clayton: This is a great success story. Tim, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. We appreciate it.

Birdsong: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Copyright 2022 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Jerry Clayton