What kind of fish are you trying to conserve?
We work entirely with non-game, little, small-stream fishes—all fresh water, probably 50 different species over the years. Most are less than three inches long. A lot of them are endangered, like the smoky madtom, that's a little tiny dwarf catfish, gets about 2 inches long. And all of them are rare.
How do you help?
We bring them into our 5,000 square foot hatchery and breed them. Then we use them to try to reestablish fish populations that for one reason or another have disappeared.
Can't you just say, "Okay, so that species is gone. Big deal."?
We could, and a lot of people would probably promote that. But we don't know what the value of some of these fish might be. They might have a medicinal value. And when things go wrong with these little guys, it indicates something wrong with the whole system, like a canary in the coal mine. That's probably their greatest value, as water quality indicators.
Most of our funding comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. We're an independent, private nonprofit and we—my co-director Pat Rakes and I—have been doing this since 1986.
The hatchery is right there off of Division Street?
There's plenty of room; this used to be a warehouse. I think they made billboards.
How do you get enough water?
We use municipal water that we filter.
On July 11, you're having a fund-raiser at Shady Grove Meadery. How will you spend any money you make?
We hope to be able to use that for some infrastructure improvements that will improve our ability to raise rare fish in the hatchery.
Will you serve fish?
That would suit me all right. I like fish. But I think they're catering barbecue.
For more event information, go to conservationfisheries.org.