The robust redhorse is considered a modern mystery fish. The freshwater species once thrived, but over the past century its numbers have dwindled. Today, there are believed to be only about 60 adults of them in the Pee Dee River.
A large, long-lived member of the redhorse sucker family, it gets its name from its thick body, rose-colored fins and fleshy lower lip. Adults can grow more than two-feet long, weigh close to 20 pounds, and live more than 25 years.
The South Carolina Aquarium takes part in a conservation management program for these threatened fish. Curator David Wilkins, along with a team consisting of more than 20 other people from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, NC State, & Duke Power are working to breed robust redhorse. The team goes out on the river hoping to catch male and female robust redhorse that are ready to spawn. When the fish are caught, biologists remove the gametes (eggs and sperm) and then release the adult fish back into the river. The gametes are then taken to a hatchery, where fry (baby fish) are incubated and hatched. The fry are released back into the river 7 months after they hatch.
Scientists believe the species went into decline due to loss of habitat and spawning grounds, predation by catfish and other non-native species, sedimentation and pollution. All of these factors continue to threaten the species’ future, but there is hope.
Already conservation methods put in place for robust redhorse have been extraordinarily successful, with some populations showing signs of bouncing back. The South Carolina Aquarium, along with fellow members of the conservation management program, will continue to protect the robust redhorse population to promote a full recovery of the species.
Learn more at robustredhorse.com.