Rare crawfish bring concerns about trout stockings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia biologists are trying to address questions about two endangered crawfish species before stocking trout on four southern West Virginia streams.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail (http://bit.ly/2iRL7AY ) reports fisheries officials are seeking permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stock rainbow trout on Dry Fork and Panther Creek in McDowell County and on Clear Fork and Pinnacle Creek in Wyoming County.

The federal agency is concerned the trout could push the crawfish species closer to extinction by feeding on them.

The streams are on the state Division of Natural Resources’ trout-stocking list this year.

“We do still plan to stock those streams,” said Bret Preston, the DNR’s assistant chief in charge of fisheries. “We’re working with the service to get everything resolved by the time the stockings are scheduled to begin in February.”

From February through May, Clear Fork and Pinnacle Creek are stocked every other week, while Dry Fork and Panther Creek are stocked once a month.

To assist Fish and Wildlife Service biologists in their decision, DNR biologists captured and killed trout from those streams last month and examined their stomach contents for crawfish remains. The results were sent to West Liberty University crawfish expert Zac Loughman, a biologist who first identified the endangered crawfish populations.

The Guyandotte crawfish had been considered extinct until Loughman found some in Pinnacle Creek and Clear Fork. He found the other species known as the Big Sandy crawfish in the upper Tug Fork watershed, including Dry Fork. Fish and Wildlife officials must give the go-ahead to trout stockings in those streams as well.

Preston expects the federal approval in time for the February stockings. But he said DNR officials will have to suspend the stockings if the permission isn’t granted.

“We do not want to be in the position of violating the Endangered Species Act,” Preston said. “Instead, what we want is to work this out with the (Fish and Wildlife) Service. Trout anglers need to know that the service is not opposed to our stocking program. They just want to make sure they do the right thing to protect those species.”

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.