Rare Crayfish May Endanger Trout Stockings on Four WV Streams

Charleston Gazette-Mail
7 January 2017
By John McCoy, Staff Writer

The presence of the endangered Big Sandy crayfish might prevent the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources from stocking trout in two McDowell County streams where the crustacean is known to exist.

The presence of two endangered crayfish species might affect trout stockings on four streams in Southern West Virginia.State fisheries officials are working get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s permission to stock rainbow trout into Clear Fork and Pinnacle Creek in Wyoming County, and Dry Fork and Panther Creek in McDowell County. Officials from the federal agency are concerned that the trout might eat enough crayfish to push the two endangered species even closer to extinction.

All four streams are on the Division of Natural Resources’ 2017 trout-stocking list. Bret Preston, the DNR’s assistant chief in charge of fisheries, said the agency wouldn’t stock the streams until they obtain clearance from Fish and Wildlife Service officials.“We do still plan to stock those streams,” Preston said. “We’re working with the service to get everything resolved by the time the stockings are scheduled to begin in February.”

Clear Fork and Pinnacle Creek are what the DNR calls “bi-weekly” streams. They receive stockings every other week from February through May. Dry Fork and Panther Creek are “monthly” waters that are stocked once a month from February through May.To help Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to make an informed decision as to whether stockings might further threaten the crayfish, DNR biologists last fall captured and killed trout from those streams and examined their stomach contents for crayfish remains. The results were sent to Zac Loughman, a crayfish expert at West Liberty University near Wheeling.

Loughman is the biologist who first identified the endangered crayfish populations. One species, the Guyandotte crayfish, had been considered extinct until Loughman found a few individuals in Pinnacle Creek and Clear Fork. He found the other species, known to biologists as the Big Sandy crayfish, at several locations in the upper Tug Fork watershed, including Dry Fork.Because of the species’ presence or potential presence, stockings in those streams are considered “on hold” as well, at least until Fish and Wildlife officials give the go-ahead.Preston expects them to give it, and he expects that to happen in time for the February stockings.

“From the results of the stomach-contents study, and from the literature we’ve consulted, rainbow trout pose little threat to crayfish,” he added. “The rainbows we stock are usually caught quickly, and they’re in the streams during the winter and spring when water temperatures are low and trout don’t feed as actively.”

If permission doesn’t come, however, DNR officials will have little choice but to suspend the stockings.“We do not want to be in the position of violating the Endangered Species Act,” Preston said. “Instead, what we want is to work this out with the [Fish and Wildlife] Service. Trout anglers need to know that the service is not opposed to our stocking program. They just want to make sure they do the right thing to protect those species.”

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.