Albuquerque, NM (KKOB) — For many, summertime in Albuquerque means time spent by the Bosque: kayaking, floating, or simply enjoying the river’s edge. But imagine sitting the on banks of a dry river bed. Cottonwoods blowing in the hot breeze, with no water to help local families cool off. Now, picture the death of those cottonwoods and the loss of shade, fewer birds living in the trees, leading to more insects – and that beautiful spot you used to take your kids? Well, it’s gone.
Thankfully, this summer when you take your family to the Bosque, the picture we just painted won’t be your reality. But why? The state like much of the southwest is experiencing yet another megadrought. Reservoirs are low, farms struggling, so how does the Duke City manage to keep a small oasis flowing through town? The answer lies in a building the size of an airport hanger at the back of the ABQ BioPark’s Botanic Garden.
“So ya, it’s a little silver fish and I get why people don’t think that’s important, but everything in the ecosystem you don’t know until one little piece is gone that it could cause a collapse,” said Kathy Lang, the Aquatic Conservation & Operations Manager at the park. Lang is in charge of local conservation efforts for the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow.
In 1994 the fish, about the size of an adult middle finger, joined the endangered species list. To this day, those protections keep Rio Grande flowing through the summer in Albuquerque. Patrick Horely is a senior aquarist on Lang’s team. “This is the kind of work that gives me the warm and fuzzies,” Horely said, “I’m making a tangible difference year in and year out. I’m not just helping a rich company get richer, which is what most fish farming is.” A large portion of his work includes setting up egg catchers at various spots in the Rio Grande. He and another teammate then spend thirty minutes at a time searching for Silvery Minnow eggs the size of a grain of quinoa. This year, they have been tasked with collecting 30,000 eggs, some of which will go to federal conservation programs. The water column pushes eggs to the surface on a metal screen, then the team scoops them up with a spoon into a cup of water before transporting them in coolers back to the BioPark.
The fish are cared for and taught to survive in the wild in a large river simulator at the park. Then, in the fall, they are tagged and released back into the wild. These hatchery fish will breed with adult river fish, helping to keep the population afloat.
All this work, in an effort to stabilize the silvery minnow population, and in turn, protect the Rio Grande between Cochiti damn and Elephant Butte is done by a handful of full-time employees and some very passionate volunteers. So next time you’re enjoying your time at the river this summer, remember the BioPark staff and their mission to protect this tiny silver fish.