Virginia Crossroads: Searching for the Endangered Roanoke Logper - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Virginia Crossroads: Searching for the Endangered Roanoke Logperch

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Virginia Tech researchers use a large net to sample the river.  They are looking for the endangered Roanoke Logperch. Virginia Tech researchers use a large net to sample the river. They are looking for the endangered Roanoke Logperch.

Researchers are taking an annual snapshot of the health of the Roanoke River.    

The team, from the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation uses an electro shocker, which temporarily stuns the river's smaller fish, to sample a 100 yard stretch of the river in Salem – one of 12 sites they check every year. 

 "We capture probably 30-35 species, but in the entire river there's probably 60-90 species that we could capture," said Greg Anderson a Virginia Tech Ph.D. candidate.

But the species that matters the most is the endangered Roanoke River Logperch.

Jamie Roberts/Researcher "So here we have the federally endangered Roanoke Logperch.  It's a large-bodied member of the darter group," explains researcher Jamie Roberts, as he pulls a five-inch fish from a white, five gallon bucket.  "With males you can tell, because they have this bright orange in their dorsal fin you can sort of see the orange."

The Logperch has a pointed nose, which it uses to roll rocks on the river bottom searching for food.  If the bottom became covered with silt and dirt, the Logperch would be unable to find food.  Since it occurs only in a small part of Virginia, that could lead to extinction of the species.

On this day the researcher find five.

"I would say this is fairly typical.  This has been a fairly typical Logperch year and average Logperch abundance site," Roberts said.

The research on the Roanoke Logperch here on the Roanoke River started back in 1997,  so they've got a lot of different years to compare the numbers, but it's still too early to draw any serious conclusions.

"In any given yea,r the population size may be fairly small.  The next year it may be a little bit larger, but then every once in a while they are having those really good years," said Roberts.

Despite the lack of a definite trend, Roberts says there's enough evidence to show the Roanoke flood reduction program – which widened the river -- has not had a harmful effect.

Good news for the rest of the fish as well,  since the Logperch is an indicator for nearly everything in the river.

Again, Roberts:  "As the cliché goes this is the canary in the coal mine – this is a good example of the canary in the Roanoke River.  So as it goes with the Logperch, so goes it with the Roanoke River… If you talk to people who have lived in the Valley for many, many years, the Roanoke River in the last part of the last century was not a good place to be if you were a fish."

Though the spring and summer floods were likely not a help, and made sampling nearly impossible earlier in the year… it appears that Roanoke's namesake endangered species has survived for another year.

"And now they are ready to be released back into the wild," says Roberts as he gently pours the five captive Logperch back into the river. "So we just kinda gently release them into the margin of the stream here and let them swim out… and hopefully go make more log perch."

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