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. Of the many Allegheny River surveys that inventoried darters (Greeley 1938, Schwartz 1954, Eaton et al. 1982, Carlson and Daniels 2006) only Greeley’s 1937 survey caught gilt darters in New York State (last known capture). However, since Greeley’s survey, the Kinzua Dam was constructed and two of his survey locations in New York were inundated by the Allegheny Reservoir. The third historical gilt darter location was about 20 miles upstream of the Allegheny Reservoir, near Carrollton. The gilt darter has been extirpated due to earlier water quality degradation and loss of habitat by placement of the Allegany Reservoir (Carlson 2001), 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, the Pigeon River of Tennessee, after severe pollution caused them to be extirpated (pers. comm. J.R. Shute, Conservation Fisheries Inc., Knoxville, TN). These fish were reintroduced using translocated stock. Recent advances in propagation and restoration of darters in other parts of Appalachia (Shute et al. 2005) 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 (Near et al. 2001).
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 (Near et al. 2001).
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.