NANFA's Regional Chapters Open the Door to Increased Activity

by Elmer A. Guerri, NANFA National Regional Chairman

(reprinted from American Currents, Fall 1997)

The creation of Regional Chapters by NANFA has done a great deal to increase participation, to give identity to members, and to provide more frequent activities in the form of meetings and survey field trips. All of the advantages of belonging to a native fish study and collecting organization are magnified with the Regional Chapter concept. If one examines the purposes of NANFA as defined in its constitution, it will be readily apparent that active Regional Chapters can greatly facilitate achievement of all of those purposes, and provide even greater benefits, enjoyment and satisfaction for its members.

The Illinois-Indiana Regional Chapter has just completed its inaugural year. Our activities and achievements are included in our Summary Report (see below). At our Summer 1997 meeting, a weekend packed full of native fish-related activities in southern Indiana's Lost River and Hoosier National Forest region, many Regional Chapter members explained the benefits they have gained in just a little over a year of the Chapter's existence.

"I couldn't imagine anything like it"

Regional Chapter Treasurer Jim Evinger of Terre Haute, Indiana, discussed the benefits he has enjoyed from his NANFA Chapter membership. "I especially enjoy meeting new people, the field trips, and new experiences. Every time we get together I learn something new." Evinger was especially excited about the Chapter field trip to southern Indiana's Lost River watershed, a Karst region where the stream waters partially flow underground through limestone caves and passages. "I have never seen anything that compares to what Išve seen at Lost River. I couldnšt imagine anything like it. I thought from reading about it that the river would very slowly dwindle down to nothing and disappear, but it is actually a wide stream with a fast current, and lost of fish species, which all of a sudden abruptly disappears down to nothing. It is only an hour-and-a-half from home, and were it not for our NANFA Regional Chapter, I would never have known it was there."

Evinger was most complimentary of the literature he receives from NANFA. "I get good literature specifically about Indiana and Illinois area fish, in which I am most interested. The articles are enjoyable to read and they have allowed me to get deeper and deeper into the species I enjoy. I find that a lot of folks believe that darters, for instance, have completely disappeared, but in the last couple of years I have seen more and more of them. I have learned about mollusks and shellfish, especially the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). I was amazed to learn of how fast they are migrating southward. I have heightened my concern about the Wabas River in that regard."

The rapid migration of the zebra mussel is especially interesting to Evinger, who has spent much of his career working for a power producer that draws cooling water from the Wabash River. He also spends a great deal of time with his grandchildren, for whose enjoyment he originally began keeping native fish in his home aquarium.

Evinger says some of the most interesting native fishes he has kept are shortnose gar (Lepisosteus platostomus) and crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus and P. annularis). His favorite fish in the aquarium is the catfish. "I have found that if you have a dirty aquarium and you put in catfish (yellow bullhead, Ameiurus natalis), they take care of it for you." He says his biggest surprise was that catfish grow very rapidly. "A friend of mine gave me some yellow perch (Perca flavascens) and they ere interesting to watch. I guess they were really interesting to the catfish also. The catfish ate all of the yellow perch before I realized what was going on. I learned early on that catfish grow really fast in the aquarium".

Evinger has developed a very impressive transporting tank in the back of his Chevy Suburban. Chapter members who live near Jim are always happy to have him along on distant observation and collecting trips as he shares his tank for the homebound trip. The fishes are in excellent condition upon arriving home, even in very hot weather and for excessively long periods of time.

"It's a real privilege to see these rare fishes"

Illinois-Indiana NANFA Chapter member Claus Sutor of Des Plains, Illinois, has been a great contributor to the success of the Chapter. He prepared a comprehensive database of commercial native fish hatcheries and rearing facilities in Illinois and Indiana with the help of his niece Julie McIlvenny. The information has been helpful for members who may choose to obtain native species without removing them from streams. Members are also able to obtain and study some unusual and elaborate hybrid fishes from these facilities which they likely would not have been able to obtain from natural streams.

Sutor enthusiastically explains the benefits he has enjoyed from NANFA and the Regional Chapter. "I get to talk to a lot of people to know a heck of a lot more than I do. It's a really educational process. The people are very nice, and I value very highly the camaraderie that develops."

The nature survey, observation and collecting trips are very important to Sutor. "They provide an opportunity for us to briefly observe and photograph even some of the endangered species, and then release them, at the same time weare collecting and studying other fishes. It's a real privilege to see these rare fishes."

Sutor has been observing and collecting fish, salamanders, frogs, snakes and turtles sine he was a youngster. He prefers fishes for several reasons. "With fish one doesnšt have to raise mice and other larger foods that snakes and turtles require. Also, with forethought and a little luck, you can put together a community tank of native fishes. With herps that is rather difficult to do."

Sutor prefers to use live plants in his native fish aquariums, and has had excellent success with Cryptocoryne and some success with hornwort. he hopes to pick up some pointers for growing Vallisneria and Sagittaria in the future. Input from members like Sutor help identify programs for future Chapter meetings.

Sutor believes that all NANFA members have an obligation to educate the public and to assist others who are interested in native fishes. He is impressed with the City of Chicago's "Bank Angling" program, which teaches youngsters the joys of fishing without the need for expensive boats, rods, reels, and so forth. Sutor hopes a similar "native fish appreciation" program might be developed to teach fish observation and appreciation.

"It's just a lot of fun"

Not every Regional Chapter has the privilege of having among its members someone like Larry Page of the Illinois Natural History Survey, and author of the Peterson Field Guide to Fishes of North America. Larry brings much to the Chapter, and has enthusiasm for what he himself derives from NANFA. "Non-professionals often spend a lot more time working on behalf of the environment that do professional fish people," Larry remarked. "They have more time, and they often have particular interests. I spend a lot of time trying to get people interested in native fishes to get them to understand what native fishes require in the way of streams and so on. Developing awareness of conservation and of the environment is one of the main reasons I am involved."

One of Larry's contributions to the Regional Chapter has been his video presentations on native fish spawning behavior in natural streams. This allowed Chapter members an opportunity to observe behavior we otherwise would not have been able to see. One of Larry's videotapes shows rosefin shiners (Lythrurus ardens) spawning over abandoned nests of hornyhead chubs (Nocomis biguttatus). We were fascinated with the detail and the scope of that footage, and on a subsequent trip to Lost River, we observed that same behavior in person.

Larry advises people, both professionals and non-professionals, to get involved in NANFA, especially in Regional Chapter activities. "I think understanding the diversity of nature is great fun. With any group of organisms, it's great fun to discover how many there are, going different places, doing different things. It's just a lot of fun."

Larry believes in learning and in "getting wet", as he puts it. Anyone attending an Illinois-Indiana Regional Chapter field trip will easily recognize Larry. He will be the one on the "business end" of the seine or net, kicking and sloshing below snags and logs, all the while laughing and, along with other members, enjoying the experience to its fullest.

"I like to see the diversity in our country"

Larry routinely involves students from classes at the Illinois Natural History Survey in NANFA and Regional Chapter activities. One of his students, Ralph Steinberg, was most impressed with a presentation to one of Page's university classes by NANFA members Kon Schmidt and Rat Katula. "Ray talked about his experiences in breeding various native fish species. It was great fun to hear from folks with so much experience in such an interesting area."

Ralph is considering joining NANFA as a result of Schmidt's and Katula's presentations, and as a result of a Chapter weekend field trip. "I can see the advantages of getting to different places to see more streams. I like to see the diversity in our country and in other countries as well." Ralph recently returned from a field study trip to visit streams in Poland, and it is likely he will be asked to share his experiences and knowledge with Regional Chapter members.

"Get wet"

Regional Chapter charter member Jeff Chynoweth is a professional ornithologist, but he enjoys studying native fishes as well, and has enjoyed being a NANFA member. His advice: "Get wet."

"It's great to get out on field trips," Jeff said, "and associate with other interested people, and to go to the places we have gone to so far. The fact that NANFA covers a lot of different states, you can contact other members from the Directory, and learn about fishes and sites in their area. The fish are beautiful, and it's fun to get out in the water on a hot summer day and see nature."

"Fish are wonderful"

Another Regional Chapter charter member is Eric Jensen, a graduate student who plans to teach high school biology. He explains his enthusiasm for NANFA with a lively voice and a sparkle in his eyes. "NANFA allows you to come together with other like-minded fish enthusiasts and enjoy the outdoors, observing, and sometimes catching, fish. Fish are wonderful, in my opinion. They are definitely an under-appreciated fauna that deserve more attention."

Eric plans to share his NANFA experiences with his students. "I hope to be able to bring some of the outdoors into the classroom and show the kids some of these great things we see on the outside." All of the Illinois-Indiana Regional Chapter charter members are grateful for the efforts of NANFA to promote the Regional Chapter concept. In our two states, the idea behind the Regional Chapter has opened the door to increased NANFA activity, and it promises to do so in the future.

Illinois - Indiana Regional Chapter Inaugural Year Summary Report

The inaugural year of the Illinois-Indiana Regional Chapter of NANFA has been a fruitful, exciting, and busy one. Chapter activities have included three regional meetings, field and collecting trips, and a visit to a commercial and research facility.

May 11, 1996 ~ Terre Haute, Indiana

Topic: Status of Wabash River Fishes by Dr. Jim Gammon. A presentation featuring Dr. Gammon's extensive experience along the Wabash River, including a "slide photo quiz" challenging us to identify rare and unusual freshwater native species from the Wabash River. Members got "close up" with Moxostoma erythrurum, M. anisurum, Carpiodes velifer, Cycleptus elongatus, Alosa chrysochloris, Lepisosteus oculatus, Hiodon tergisus, Ictalurus punctatus, Morone chrysops, and others. Attendees received two comprehensive texts and study reference on the Wabash River ecosystem and its fishes. A tour of Aquatic Technologies/Inland Aquatics' 35,000 gallon research and production facility featured algal turf scrubber water filtration technology in both commercial and hobby applications.

September 21, 1996 ~ Champaign, Illinois

Topic: Breeding the Northern, Mountain and Southern Redbelly Daces (Phoxinus) by Jim Sternburg, Professor Emeritus of Entomology, University of Illinois. A most enlightening and helpful presentation with lots of "hands-on" tips to help Chapter members with their own fish breeding projects.

Topic: Spawning Habits of Darters and Minnows by Larry Page. A most interesting presentation featuring videotapes of actual structures and spawning activities in North American streams.

Topic: Fish Photography by Phil and Carie Nixon, Regional Chapter members, who specialize in topminnows and killifishes. They displayed close-up photos of aquarium subjects and discussed photography techniques.

A collecting trip to Middle Fork provided members the opportunity to get a rare glimpse of the bluebreast darter (Etheostoma camurum), an Illinois endangered species, and over a dozen other species, including rosyface shiner, madtom, stonecat, stoneroller, Northern hogsucker, johnny darter, rainbow darter, and stickleback.

July 12-13, 1997 ~ Lost River, Southern Illinois

Topic: Discovering the Lost River by Bob Armstrong and Dee Slater. On Friday evening, Chapter members enjoyed a 3-D photo slide presentation; on Saturday morning, a Lost River field trip; and both day and midnight collecting trips along the Lost River and other cave-originating streams in the Lost River Watershed.

Brant Fisher of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and Steve Olson of the National Forest Service, were present for the Lost River Tour. Four students from the Illinois Natural History Survey joined the weekend activities and demonstrated collecting techniques, and shared information on their graduate projects and studies.

Members observed first-hand over a dozen blind cave fish (Amblyopsis spelaea) and blind crayfish in the Twin Caves, located at Spring Mill State Park, headquarters for the Regional Meeting.

Daytime collecting trips took place at various stops along the Lost River tour, and at collecting sites on Carter Creek, Clifty Creek, Blue River, Lick Creek and Twin Creek‹all originating in caves. Chapter members were also able to compare different flora and species diversities in stream stretches with varying temperatures and conditions. Several species of fully colored spawning shiners and darters were seen, and large longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis) were observed on nests.

A midnight collecting trip was made to the upwelling orifice of a Karst spring in Pioneer Motters Forest, part of the Hoosier National Forest, where many species were seen, including exceptionally large mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdi). Dr. Don Ash, a Lost River caver now deceased, once saw blind cave fish emerging from this orifice after dark.

Other Activities and Projects

- Creation of a species distribution database to help Chapter members locate species and obtain specimens.

- Creation of an information database on Chapter members, including the species they've kept and bred, their interests and needs, and biographical information.

- Sharing of "best books" and references.

- Initiation of a "cookbook"-style pharmacopeia on fish diseases, parasites, quarantine dips, etc.

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