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ODFW Native Fish Program wants a big crowd for native fish conservation

September 15, 2014

Millicoma dace sampling
Biologists backpack-electrofishing for Millicoma dace. Left to right: Paul Scheerer, ODFW; Jen Feola and Stephanie Messerle, Bureau of Land Management; and Andrew Pickens, Oregon State University.
-Photo by Doug Markle -

CHARLESTON, Ore. – Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists with the Native Fish Investigations Program (NFIP) are trying something new in Oregon to support lesser known fish. Crowd-sourced funding.

“We know there’s a large community interested in understanding native fish,” says Shaun Clements, NFIP program leader. “Crowd-sourced funding is a way to get involved.”

Clements posted his current project, a survey of the Millicoma dace, to a fundraising website. People interested in donating to the project can go directly to the web site. The project is expected to cost about $8,000, and Clements is trying to raise about a quarter of that through community funding.

Millicoma dace are tiny forage fish found only in the Coos and Millicoma rivers. According to Clements, it’s been almost 20 years since anyone has checked in on this Oregon native.

“There is a concern for its well-being, so we’re hoping to find a healthy population,” Clements said.

Millicoma dace currently are classified as a “strategy species” in the Oregon Conservation Strategy. Strategy species are defined as species with low and/or declining populations or otherwise at risk.

Charleston District Fish Biologist Mike Gray ranked the dace as the fish species of highest concern in his district.

“These fish have only been found in certain areas of the Coos basin. Even if they are healthy in numbers, it takes a dedicated effort to find them,” Gray said. “They may be doing reasonably well, but we just don’t know.” 

With specialized expertise from Clements’ program, Gray may soon have his answer. Biologists are backpack-electrofishing three dozen sites on the Millicoma and Coos rivers and will document their findings.

Oregon has more than 75 native fish species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. These fish are part of a complex ecosystem of native fish, plants, insects and other critters vital to healthy runs of salmon, steelhead and trout. Without healthy populations of these and other little fish, the system collapses and there is risk of losing the fish Oregonians love to catch.

Clements’ team has had great success with several of these species. Most notably, his program was instrumental in getting the Oregon chub off of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list. The Oregon chub was the first fish ever to be taken off the list since the ESA was enacted 40 years ago.

The team’s success to date has focused on threatened or endangered species which attract grant funding. Clements hopes the public will step forward to help some of Oregon’s lesser-known, but equally important, fish species which receive little or no funding.

“The communities within the Coos basin have a resource that’s unique to their area, and it would be great to have local support to understand it,” Clements said.

The mission of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is to protect and enhance Oregon's fish and wildlife and their habitats for use and enjoyment by present and future generations. The agency consists of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, a commission-appointed director and a statewide staff of about 950 permanent employees. Headquartered in Salem, ODFW has regional offices in Clackamas and Roseburg with ten district offices located throughout the state. Visit www.odfw.com.

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Contact:
Shaun Clements (541) 223-8437
Mike Gray (541) 888-5515
Fax: (541) 673-0372

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