Dragon Run Invasive Species Initiative

Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission

Saluda, Virginia

June 29, 2004



- Topics -

1.      Welcome

David Fuss


2.      Virginia Invasive Species Council’s Advisory Committee


David Fuss

Dr. Greg Garman


  1. Blue Catfish Control and Assessment


Dr. Greg Garman

Bob Greenlee

  1. Education Materials


  1. Other Business





Julie Bixby, Krista Trono (VA Coastal Program); Greg Garman (VCU); Alyson Cotton, Willy Reay (CBNERR-VA/VIMS); Bob Greenlee (DGIF); Andy Lacatell (TNC); David Fuss (MPPDC)




David welcomed everyone and called the meeting to order.


Virginia Invasive Species Council’s Advisory Committee


David and Greg provided an update on the Advisory Committee. They have both accepted appointments to the Committee. No date has been set for a meeting, but a meeting is anticipated later this summer. The mission of the Committee will be to develop a statewide management plan for invasive species to be submitted to the Council. Other known Committee appointees include Jenn Allen of TNC and David Whitehurst of DGIF. Tom Smith of DCR’s Natural Heritage Program will provide staff support for the Council and Committee. Tom has indicated that no funding has been allocated for this effort, so the scope of statewide management plans will likely be focused on species of particular concern. Andy indicated that Jenn Allen has prepared some materials for TNC concerning invasive species of concern to TNC’s preserves.


There was discussion about whether the media attention afforded the northern snakehead fish would elevate its importance for the Council. Discussion ranged from the snakehead’s impacts on state agencies’ responsibilities and response to media attention to public sentiment. Currently, it is illegal to possess, transport, or sell northern snakehead fish. Since the northern snakehead can reach 3 feet in length and is palatable, it has potential as a gamefish.


Several other recent observations were noted, including the discovery of flathead catfish in the Mattaponi River and an incident involving the release and death of a captive spectacled caiman in the Dragon Run.


Blue Catfish Control and Assessment


Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) sampled for blue catfish twice in May. One intensive sampling trip yielded about 30 individuals including young of the year. A less intensive sampling excursion yielded only one individual. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) also sampled in May as part of its fish tissue sampling program headed by Rick Browder. An all day trip yielded no blue catfish. Greg Garman explained the Dragon Run efforts and Mr. Browder indicated that he would watch his sampling catches carefully for blue catfish and report any to Greg. Bob Greenlee plans to perform sampling soon. There are no big changes from last year’s catches.


The goal of the monitoring should be to control the species in the Dragon Run. There is some question as to whether this is technically feasible. Some problems still exist including: 1) variations in reproductive success in different years; 2) the possibility of a refuge downstream where electrofishing is not effective (>3-5 ppt salinity); and 3) evidence of blue catfish populating nontidal freshwater habitat in the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers, which defies conventional wisdom that blue catfish are restricted to tidal freshwater habitat downstream to ~12 ppt.


There was discussion of designating an “invasive-free zone” for the Dragon Run and upper Piankatank River. This area might be managed as a “heritage” angling management area that is touted as an area that can be fished much as it was generations ago before introduced species changed the composition of fish species in many of Virginia’s tidal rivers. There is currently very little support for this idea within DGIF. To succeed, this idea would likely need considerable citizen support.


The group determined a need to prepare a draft monitoring plan or program that utilizes a combination of electrofishing, nets, and traps. Research is needed to determine the extent of the blue catfish population downstream of where electrofishing becomes ineffective. Commercial fishermen may be needed to collect with different gear types. Salinity sampling by CBNERR-VA could inform the extent of the sampling area. The effects of the drought of 2002 and the rainy year of 2003 were discussed.


A draft blue catfish monitoring program could be the basis for a proposal to fund such a program. A more comprehensive monitoring program will likely exceed limitations on personnel from DGIF and VCU who are currently performing monitoring. Possible funding sources include the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund (License Plate Fund), NFWF Small Watershed Grants Program, NOAA Community-based Restoration, and American Rivers. Several future opportunities include funds for the implementation of management measures developed by the Virginia Invasive Species Council and a NOAA Habitat Restoration office to be located at VIMS in Gloucester Point.


Public education and involvement is critical to prevent the introduction of fish species. The general approach is to monitor, control, and educate.


Education Materials


Alyson has time to devote to focused education materials on invasive species in the Dragon Run. These might include full-page laminated boat sheets, credit-card sized cards, posters for businesses, public seminars, and a web page. These would target the recreational community to promote angler and public awareness.


Discussion focused on the blue catfish as the pilot species for education materials. A full-page sheet is envisioned with a real photo along with diagnostic characteristics on a schematic. Blue cats would need to be distinguished from channel, flathead, and white catfish. What would anglers do if they caught one? Bob indicated that for something unusual, like flathead catfish, anglers should call him at DGIF. Since blue cats are already established, contacting Bob every time one is caught does not make sense. It was suggested that information about species not yet found in the Dragon like flatheads would be accompanied by information about the dangers and impacts of introduced species on native fish species. For blue cats, the approach could be focused on “Do you know that blue catfish are not native to the Dragon Run?” Then, it could go on to talk about the impacts of blue cats on native fish and shellfish (and bird?) populations. We will need photos of blue cats from the fisheries scientists and logos of partner organizations. Once draft materials are developed, we will convene another meeting to review them.


Other Business


Greg indicated that he had been contacted by Rex Springston of the Richmond Times-Dispatch about a color spread article in the Sunday edition focused on the Dragon Run. Greg has so far indicated that local sentiment might be wary of this type of attention to the watershed. Often, landowners experience a higher number of visitors (and trespassers) after a lot of publicity. David indicated that the SAMP’s current strategy had been to put information out to the local newspapers and avoid publicity in the metro newspapers to moderate tourism pressure. The newspaper article offer was acknowledged as a media opportunity, but the group decided not to proceed with such an article at this time. It was suggested that local reporters could be targeted for specific projects and events.


Action Items are:

  • Greg and Bob – develop monitoring plan
  • Greg and David – Advisory Committee meeting (TBA)
  • Willy and Alyson – develop education/outreach materials
  • Willy and David – find names of commercial fishermen (VMRC or VMRC-retired Davis Wilson)
  • Willy – maps of water quality to Greg and Bob
  • Greg – catfish images to Alyson and David
  • All – research possible funding sources for implementing monitoring plan and/or education program


The meeting was adjourned.