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Research teams hope to find native fish in cleaner southern Arizona river

Research teams conduct fish survey looking for different species in the Lower Santa Cruz River. (Photo courtesy Brian F. Powell)

TUCSON, Ariz. — As water quality has improved in the Lower Santa Cruz River near Tucson, fish have populated the waterway. Now, research teams in Pima County are hoping that native fish species have also returned to the river.

Pima County and the Sonoran Institute are teaming up with other organizations to conduct a fish survey Nov. 9.

Last year, the research teams found four non-native species of fish swimming in the river: mosquito fish, common carp, black bullhead and the green sunfish. Many of these fish were discovered thanks to upgrades to nearby wastewater treatment facilities. It has improved the water quality of the Lower Santa Cruz River.

“Now we’re finding fish all along the river,” said Claire Zugmeyer, ecologist with the Sonoran Institute.

With river water quality continuing to improve, Zugmeyer said there is a chance that a native species of fish may have returned.

“We’re hoping this year that we might find some native species that might get washed down in floodwaters from upstream,” Zugmeyer said. “We might see the return of some longfin dace which are a native species that’s known to be the first to recolonize in the area.”

During the fish survey, the research team will deliver mild electrical shocks and gather the fish in nets. The fish gathered by the team will be identified and counted. From there, the fish will be returned to the river unharmed. Zugmeyer said they will conduct the survey at four different locations along the river.

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