25 percent of native Md. fish at risk, study says

DNR report blames pollution, development

August 10, 2005|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

About 25 percent of the fish species native to streams in Maryland are at risk of vanishing from the state because of pollution and development, according to a report being released today.

"Generally, these fish act almost like canaries in a coal mine," said Paul Kazyak, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which plans to present its report at the Maryland Streams Symposium at Carroll Community College.

"When we see declines of species like this, the chances are our quality of life is going down, too," Kazyak said.

One of the 77 fish species that live in streams and rivers in the state, the Maryland darter, is already listed by the federal government as an endangered species, Kazyak said.

It has not been seen by researchers in more than a decade and may be gone from the streams in Harford and Cecil counties where it once lived, Kazyak said.

State biologists have concluded that another 18 species, including the stonecat and the American brook lamprey, are also in decline.

They haven't been classified as endangered yet, but are considered "at risk" of being eliminated in Maryland because they now live in so few places that they could be knocked out by a catastrophic event, such as a pollution spill, Kazyak said.

The stonecat is a variety of catfish that grows to nine inches and lives in one section of the Casselman River in Western Maryland, according to Kazyak. Only about 500 remain.

The American brook lamprey, a jawless fish about the size of a pencil, lives in streams and rivers in Prince George's County, Kazyak said, with a fragile population of about 16,000.

Details about these fish, as well as several other reports on the health of streams and rivers in the state, are to be presented during the symposium.

The conference, sponsored by the state, is being held this morning through Saturday at Carroll Community College in Westminster and is open to the public.

Another survey, conducted by state biologists from 2000 through 2004, found that only 17 percent of stream and river miles in Maryland had enough insects, fish and other living creatures to be considered in "good" condition, said Ron Klauda, director of monitoring and nontidal assessment at DNR.

In contrast, 37 percent of streams were rated fair and 47 percent as poor or very poor. The only previous statewide survey, conducted from 1995-1997, had similar results, with 12 percent of the streams and rivers rated good, 42 percent fair, and 46 percent poor or very poor.

Klauda said the results suggest that state and local governments need to do more to control suburban sprawl, which often pollutes streams.

Communities should preserve more open space, build better storm-water containment systems, maintain strips of trees along streams and rivers, and encourage alternatives to paved parking lots, among other steps, he said.

"We have to be more sensitive to protect these important habitats from encroachment," said Klauda. "But it depends on political will and financial resources to get these things done."

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