WNC Sicklefin Redhorse Fish Spawning Event Draws Attention to Earth Day

Fyke nets are placed in the river to funnel Sicklefin Redhorse into the trap as they swim upstream in their spring spawning journey.

Mainspring Conservation Trust is partnering with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) to offer a public viewing and education of the Commission’s long-term monitoring of Sicklefin Redhorse spawning migration on Earth Day, Thurs., April 22.

Those interested can join biologists from the two groups at either 8 a.m. or 6 p.m. on April 22 at Mainspring’s Welch Farm public preserve along the Valley River between Andrews and Marble.

The Sicklefin Redhorse is a type of sucker that was not recognized as a distinct fish species by the scientific community until 1992, yet Cherokee had identified the fish as “jungihtla” for centuries. It is an endemic species to the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee River Basins.

“Sicklefin Redhorse, like most sucker species, swim upstream into the headwaters to spawn each spring,” said Luke Etchison, Aquatic Wildlife Diversity Coordinator with the NCWRC. “These aquatic events are similar to salmon spawning runs out west, where large numbers of animals swim upstream and their unfertilized eggs and waste help give a seasonal boost to the river ecosystem.”

As the fish travel for their spawning run, they will be collected by the NCWRC using a type of fish trap that utilizes net wings to block off the river and funnels fish into the trap as they swim upstream. 

“Each sucker species collected by the fyke net will be measured, weighed, and spawning condition evaluated, and then will be released upstream to continue on their spawning journey,” said Etchison. “Additionally, each Sicklefin Redhorse will have a small tag inserted, much like a microchip that many cats and dogs have, that can be used to uniquely identify it if the fish is recaptured in the future, to help estimate the population size.”

This seasonal boost is very important to many fish species and aquatic insects during a time of year with limited food resources, explained Rachel Newcomb, Conservation Outreach Associate with Mainspring. “This is a great opportunity for people to learn more about local aquatic habitat,” she said. “And it is fun for the public to see. Folks can expect to see high quantities of Redhorse in the Valley River and learn about their crucial importance to our natural and cultural resources.”

The event is free and open to all ages. For more information, or for directions to Welch Farm, visit mainspringconserves.org/events/ or email Rachel Newcomb at rnewcomb@mainspringconserves.org.