The Native Fish Coalition’s mission is to protect, preserve, and restore wild native fish populations through stewardship of the fish and their habitats. Founded in 2017, the group is largely made up of fly fishing and conservation enthusiasts from the Northeast US. They’ve dedicated their work to the memory of Dr. Robert J. Behnke, a prolific fisheries biologist, and hero to trout fishers everywhere. In just four years, the group has accomplished a lot. Some of their successful campaigns include lobbying for better fisheries regulations, posting informational signage at popular fishing streams, and educating the public on conservation issues like non-native species, dam removal, and habitat restoration. With 6 chapters in the northeast, the group has largely focused their efforts on advocacy for salmonids and their habitat in cold water systems. However, recently the NFC took a huge leap into new territory, expanding their reach to Alabama, a state without a single native salmonid. What will this mean for the future of NFC, and native fish in Alabama?
With new territory comes new conservation issues. While some of the same problems affect salmonids and warm-water species, we have unique diversity in Alabama that may be unfamiliar to the trout angler. Alabama has much higher aquatic diversity than any of the northeastern states, and unfortunately, much higher rates of extinction. Some of our native fish species can only be found in one or two tiny springs. Others are endemic to just a few streams. These tiny populations of endangered species are extremely vulnerable to disturbances, but they’re not vulnerable to fishing because they’re not game species. While not an explicit goal of the Coalition in general, the main strategy of the Alabama Chapter is to focus effort on native game species that are vulnerable to fishing. The poster-child of their mission is of course, the redeye bass, Micropterus spp.
Redeye bass is a group of species native to the southeastern US, with several species endemic to single rivers in Alabama. The Warrior, Cahaba, Coosa, and Tallapoosa bass are all named after the drainages in which they dwell. The nascent Alabama Chapter is hoping use some of NFC’s strategies to promote awareness for these species, and potentially lobby for more protections. Just like trout, redeye bass are indicator species, and cannot be found in poor quality habitat. Therefore, the major threats to redeye bass are also threats to Alabama’s biodiversity in general. Pollution, and habitat loss are two issues that hopefully through education, outreach, and lobbying, this dedicated group of people can rally their state against.
For more information on the Alabama Chapter of NFC, visit their web page.