WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Researchers said pollution in the Wabash River is improving, but the fish in the river are still struggling. In part two of our series "What's in the Wabash," we turned our attention to the river's main inhabitants, the fish.
The Wabash River is home to 120 different species. Aquatic ecosystems expert Reuben Goforth said some of those fish, like the Tippecanoe Darter, can only be found in the Wabash River system. Goforth also said what happens in the river doesn't stay in the river.
"The ecosystems that are around us, if they're not doing well, that is ultimately going to have an effect on us. We may not realize it yet, but it will affect us. So it's in our best interest to worry about the fact that the fish are stressed out and they're not doing well," said Goforth.
The river is teeming with life, but Goforth said the fish population is struggling. He said with the large amounts of sediment flowing into the river, the fish are living in their own version of a dust bowl.
"So we have a lot of particulate matter that goes into the Wabash. Basically tiny pieces of sand that go into the Wabash and its tributaries. And that does have an affect on fish. It can irritate their gills, so it affects their breathing. It's kind of like us being in a dust storm," said Goforth.
Sediment continues to be the largest pollution problem for water quality issues. Purdue Extension Water Quality Coordinator, Jane Frankenberger, said there are other, more selfish reasons, to care about the river's inhabitants. The amount of wildlife in and around the waters ultimately affect the quality of life for those living nearby.
"It's still critical for the health of the community. For the environmental health of the community because there are so many organisms that live in it and recreationally its important and there are very positive potential impacts on the economy all from having a cleaner river," said Frankenberger.
One of the simplest ways to use the river recreationally is fishing. But are those fish safe to eat? Goforth said yes, in moderation the fish caught in the Wabash are safe for consumption.
"People do it all the time. Would I do it? Sure, I actually have eaten fish out of the Wabash. Would I do it more than a couple times a month, or more than once a month? No probably not, but that's true for any water body you come across in the Midwestern United States," said Goforth.
Goforth said some of the fish living in the Wabash are close to being endangered and he's in the process of determining what exactly can be done to help the fish cope with the large amounts of sediment in the river.
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