By JEFF DURBIN, Missourian staff writer

January 15, 1999


A three-inch-long silver fish known as the Topeka shiner once swam the prairie streams of the Midwest in abundance.

On Thursday, the fish was placed under federal endangered-species protection.

The shiner needs clear and clean water, but runoff from urban development and agricultural fields in Boone County, among other factors, has decimated the local fish population.

Locally, the shiner lives in the Bonne Femme watershed, but a 1995 survey there found only 12 adult fish. The shiner has disappeared from about 90 percent of its original range.

"The Topeka shiner, in essence, is the canary in the mine," said Paul McKenzie, endangered species coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missouri. "If it declines, that suggests there's been serious water degradation."

Starting Thursday, projects using federal funds, requiring federal permits or on federal land will need to consult with the service to ensure the shiner is not jeopardized, McKenzie said.

Activities such as reservoir building, stream channelization, gravel and sand dredging, timber cutting near streams and bridge construction may need to be approved before they can begin.

Besides the shrinking population, another problem has emerged. Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologist Sue Bruenderman discovered scoliosis, a spinal deformity, in some juvenile shiners in the Bonne Femme watershed.

"Boone County is the only place where scoliosis has been detected," McKenzie said. "No one has been able to put a finger on the cause."

The service will work with projects and landowners affected by the listing, McKenzie said. A voluntary program called Partners for Fish and Wildlife will be available to provide money to improve habitat on private land.

"The program gives us an opportunity to work with private landowners to benefit the Topeka shiner, and it also benefits the landowner," McKenzie said.

It will take about two years to draw up a recovery plan for the shiner, McKenzie said. During that process, there will be opportunity for public comment on the plan.

The shiner is already on Missouri's state endangered-species list. Missouri is ahead of most states and the federal government in devising a recovery plan, said Harold Kerns, chairman of the Topeka Shiner State Recovery Team.

Still, McKenzie said the shiner's is a sad story.

"I'm not sure if we can recover it," McKenzie said. "It's declined so precipitously in the last 10 to 25 years. But we'll do our best."