Anglers, landowners, conservationists and others interested in creating and preserving quality fish habitat have a new resource thanks to a recently launched website developed by a U.S. Fish & Wildlife biologist in conjunction with students and faculty at Northwest Missouri State University.
Maureen Gallagher is the Midwest regional coordinator for FWS's National Fish Habitat Action Plan. Working with teams of Northwest student interns over the past couple of years, Gallagher's office, located in Northwest's Garrett Strong Science Building, has collected data from 23 states stretching from Montana to West Virginia and including Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska.
Now available at www.midwestfishhabitats.org, the information should prove helpful to almost anyone interested in improving conditions for aquatic life in streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.
Man-made reservoirs are excluded, which means while the site's databases detail fish habitat along the One Hundred and Two River they leave out information regarding Mozingo Lake.
For natural streams and lakes, however, the site makes it possible for users to determine where the best conditions exist for promoting self-sustaining fish populations, and where steps need to be taken to eliminate existing or emerging environmental stresses, such as construction or drought.
Gallagher said farmers will be able to pick up ideas at www.midwestfishhabitats.org for projects to improve fish habitat on their property. The site also includes online applications for grants and technical assistance.
Anglers can use the website site to study environmental conditions found in natural lakes and rivers, which are analyzed by section, thus pinpointing optimum locations for lunker fish or a large catch.
Though largely complete, the site remains under development, Gallagher said. Still to come is a smartphone application that will let anglers submit information about the size and number of fish caught, allowing biologists and conservationists to determine how and where conditions can be improved.
Those same experts can also download big chunks of raw data to assist with related research into environmental factors that threaten or enhance specific fisheries.
Making all that information available through a single online clearinghouse, Gallagher said, should allow landowners, scientists and anglers to pick and choose conservation projects with an eye toward putting just the right resources in just the right spot.
"This will make us much more strategic that we are now," Gallagher said, adding that smart decisions are essential since "aquatic habitat in general is the most threatened habitat worldwide."
In Missouri, current populations of popular species, such as trout and bass, are not severely threatened by habitat shrinkage, Gallagher said, because thousands of fish are spawned each year in hatcheries and released into the wild.
But that system has limitations, she added, particularly since the number of anglers is decreasing, and hatchery efforts are traditionally funded through license fees and other revenues derived from people who fish for sport.
Page 2 of 2 - Also, hatcheries can't carry the whole load of keeping Missouri's rivers and streams filled with high numbers of bass and bluegill.
"It doesn't do any good to raise fish if you don't have someplace where they can live," Gallagher said.