From: Mitch Tobin, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
Published October 5, 2004 12:00 AM

Majority of Native Arizona Fish Threatened with Extinction, Says Study

Oct. 5—Five types of fish in the Gila River basin desperately need federal protection or else they'll keep swimming toward extinction, according to a new study by academic and government biologists.


"Native fish of the Gila Basin are in very bad trouble and the trend is downhill," said co-author Sally Stefferud, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.


Plagued by habitat destruction and non-native predators, the species threaten to fulfill the grim prophesy of Arizona's famous fisheries biologist, the late W.L. Minckley.


"He once said Arizona is apt to be the first state in the union to lose all its native fish," Stefferud said. "That's beginning to look more and more likely."


The 600-mile Gila River starts in southwest New Mexico and meets the Colorado River near Yuma. Its basin drains most of Southern Arizona, including the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers near Tucson.


Two-thirds of the Gila basin's native fish are already listed under the federal Endangered Species Act and the government's funding and conservation work have focused on them, the report said. But during the past 37 years, little effort has been directed toward the nonlisted species, said the authors, members of a defunct federal recovery team.


The scientists want five more fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act.


The new report focuses on seven warm-water species: The Sonora sucker, flannelmouth sucker, desert sucker, longfin dace, speckled dace, machete and striped mullet.


The group wants the three species of sucker and two species of dace protected.


To see more of The Arizona Daily Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.azstarnet.com. (c) 2004, The Arizona Daily Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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