One way that we will measure success of the restoration effort is to monitor the fish community. Why? Well, for one, Archey Fork used to be a place where you could cast a line from the bank or a kayak, and we hope to regain that relaxing recreation. Fishes are used as indicators of habitat quality and water chemistry. So many factors affect the presence and abundance of certain fish species such as oxygen levels, substrate type, and water velocity. One of our many partners in this project, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), sampled the fish community this fall for the first, post-construction sample, and we already notice a difference! Yellowcheek darters have been missing from this stretch of the Archey Fork Little Red since the channelization occurred in the late 1980’s, but this fall – less than a year after installation of the enhanced boulder riffle in Phase I – we discovered a Yellowcheek living there!! This is an amazing find since the species is an endemic and endangered species. An endemic species is one that is only found in a specific location. The Yellowcheek is endemic to the Little Red River system.
A barge shocker was used to collect fish species in pools, and a seine net was used to collect species in riffles. A seine was used in the riffles because the most sensitive, threatened, and/or endangered species in the upper Little Red are found in riffle habitats, and electroshocking units can stress these fishes. They’re tender little fellas, so we have to sample their habitat gingerly and return them to the stream as soon as we identify them.
Aquatic insects, or macroinvertebrates, were also sampled in these sites. Macroinvertebrates are used as biological indicators just like fishes but sometimes can tell a different story. Think of an ant verses a grasshopper. If if kid spills a slurpee in a park, the grasshopper could simply fly or hop away. The ant is so tiny, though, and it takes longer for it to move out of the area. Macroinvertebrates are somewhat stuck where they are due to limited mobility, whereas fishes can migrate long distances. Also, the lifetime of a macroinvertebrate is shorter than that of a fish. Sampling both of these groups will give a more comprehensive, short-term, and small-scale story. This biological monitoring project will track changes and developments in the fish and macroinvertebrate communities for the years 2012 (pre-restoration), 2014 (post-Phase I construction), 2016 (post-Phase II and potentially Phase III), and 2018 (post-Archey Fork restoration). We hope to find a higher species richness and a stronger showing of sensitive, threatened, and/or endangered species each year in Archey Fork, in addition to habitat for many of the game fish that made this stretch of river quite a popular fishing spot in the past. It looks positive so far, and the town has every right to be proud of it’s work in progress.