The gilt darter is a common fish through the Southeast, but in its northern range they are quite a bit rarer. In the past declines in New York's Allegheny River populations are attributed to earlier pollution and siltation of the river. The gilt darter has been extirpated due to earlier water quality degradation and loss of habitat by placement of the Allegany Reservoir, but the habitat in New York State now appears to be suitable to support this species. Natural restoration of gilt darters in the New York reaches of the Allegany River has not occurred in over seventy years. The Kinzua Dam and the extensive Allegheny Reservoir behind it prevent northern Allegheny River populations of gilt darter from moving upstream into New York State. Downstream movement into New York State from a small isolated population in the Allegheny River headwaters of northern Pennsylvania has not occurred.
Restoration efforts with this species appear have been successful in one location by the Pigeon River Recovery Project. The Pigeon River of Tennessee suffered from severe pollution caused by a paper plant that caused gilt darters to be extirpated upstream of the dam below this paper plant. Practices of the plant changed so the PRRP came in to see if they could help. These fish were reintroduced using translocated stock. Recent advances in propagation and restoration of darters in other parts of Appalachia have demonstrated the feasibility of this approach. Because of this past success, the gilt darter seems like a good candidate for restoration in New York as well. Techniques refined with this project will be applicable to other areas, such as Illinois, Iowa and Ohio, where gilt darters have also become extirpated.
This project will focus on the development of the Endangered Fishes Hatchery at SUNY Cobleskill and on habitat surveys. Findings from earlier studies and this project will be applied to the choices of stocking sites in New York. Genetics analyses will compare the Allegheny River population of gilt darters in Pennsylvania with the genetics of others from West Virginia/Tennessee and across the species range.
In 2009 CFI started develop gilt darter propagation techniques. For the first couple of years results were daunting, but the 2012 breeding season was quite successful. We were happy to send SUNY over 1400 fish in 2012 and hope to do the same again next year!
This project will also result in advances in species recovery efforts which will be applicable for other species and other parts of the state and country.