New Mexico Continues Efforts To Save The Silvery Minnow

Jul 17, 2013

The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC) scientists at the Los Lunas Silvery Minnow Refugium have successfully spawned endangered Rio Grande silvery minnows for the second consecutive year.  Spawning was triggered by mimicking a Rio Grande spring runoff event.

NMISC is two years into a three-year scientific spawning study. The Rio Grande silvery minnow, listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, have been induced to spawn in captivity using only cues similar to what the fish would experience in nature.

“New Mexico scientists leading this project have proven that we have the right tools for understanding and protecting our environment while making water available for other critical needs.  Despite difficult drought conditions, we must carefully and scientifically balance our water needs, our economic needs, and our environmental needs,” said Governor Susana Martinez. “We are working on all fronts to limit the impacts of drought. Raising and studying endangered fish in this naturalized refugium is a small but important step to ensure New Mexico will get through these dry times.”

The NMISC scientists confirmed that silvery minnows spawned in certain flooded overbank areas of the refugium and not in the main flow channel.  This finding is an important step in understanding the habitat needs of the minnow in the river.  Also, because the fish subsist on the natural food organisms that grow in the refugium and are subject to natural predation just like wild fish it is hoped that they will have better chances of survival when stocked in the Rio Grande. The NMISC team is working under a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and is funded by the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program. 

The refugium is a unique, man-made facility that won “Best of 2008 Awards for New Mexico” in the small projects category for construction and design excellence from Southwest Contractor magazine. It consists of a 458-foot-long outdoor “stream” that meanders over 300 linear feet. There are five 3-foot-deep ponds that are fed by the stream.

“New Mexico is struggling during this drought. Protecting and ultimately recovering the minnow population is important because we must balance so many water needs,” said State Engineer Scott Verhines. “Our scientists are not only providing water managers key facts on how to protect the endangered Silvery Minnows, they are helping to maintain and ultimately boost the minnow population. We are proving that New Mexico can outlast the drought, keep our economy strong, aide the environment and get available water to our water users.”

“Protecting our environment is a key element for every water management decision we make,” said Interstate Stream Director Estevan López. “This success proves that New Mexico can and will continue to simultaneously protect our environment and our farmers.”  

The Office of the State Engineer is charged with administering the state's water resources.  The State Engineer has power over the supervision, measurement, appropriation, and distribution of all surface and groundwater in New Mexico, including streams and rivers that cross state boundaries. The State Engineer is also Secretary of the Interstate Stream Commission and oversees its staff.

The nine-member Interstate Stream Commission is charged with separate duties including protecting New Mexico’s right to water under eight interstate stream compacts, ensuring the state complies with each of those compacts as well as investigating, conserving and protecting the waters of the State, in addition to water planning.