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Fish Castles

Turn back the pages of time and try to imagine what would be the one thing that a fish and a medieval king have in common. The answer? Both would make sure there was plenty of water in the castle’s moat!

Actually most fish would want more than just ample water for their castle. They would also demand other elements necessary for their survival, such as food and protection from predators.

Many of us have gone through the process of buying or building our own “castle.” Generally, we get to choose the community, neighborhood or rural property where we want to reside. Missourians have a fair amount of control over their home environment.

Fish do not. When a fish is looking for a home, it seeks habitat that provides shelter from harsh conditions, a place to rest, a place to spawn and a place to eat. Unlike us, fish don’t have many choices about where they live. Their home is the underwater habitat that is available. For some fish, their home territory may be less than a mile of stream.

Many Missourians, particularly anglers, are aware of the places where larger, adult fish live. However, people pay little attention to young fish and where they spend their early lives. Homes for young fish are called nurseries, just like the hospital wards where our precious babies receive special treatment. A fish nursery is critical to the health of young fish and to their contribution to the adult population.

Creation of fish habitat depends on natural forces like willow growth on sand bars, cottonwoods on stream banks, and the periodic reshaping of the floodplain by floods.

When people interfere with these natural processes, some important building blocks are omitted, and the castle can take on the appearance of a shanty. If the damage is severe, renovating a fish castle may require 50 to 100 years or more.

Many people experienced the heartbreak of water entering their homes during the 1993 flood. While you generally can’t get too much water for a fish castle, you can get too much sediment that’s carried by high water. Sediment is the number one pollutant of Missouri streams. Add too much sediment to a stream and you get smothered riffles, suffocated eggs, clogged gills and buried fish food items.

When times get tough, some fish are mobile enough to search for a better aquatic landscape. And some species of fish willingly change their home by season, just like a fair number of Missouri’s retirees. When we block fish movements with large dams, we keep stream fish away from critical shelter and spawning grounds.

What can we do to spruce up Missouri’s fish castles?

Fish castle improvement involves upgrading our water and sewage treatment plants, keeping dirt in its place on our properties and construction sites with vegetated buffers, retention structures and terraces. Watersheds should be managed under best management practices, which include leaving or enhancing tree-lined banks along streams and reestablishing wetlands that are critical for maintaining adequate summer flows.

We are essentially the insurance policy for Missouri’s fish castles. Fish are totally dependent on our actions for the quality of their homes, obligating us to dedicate some of our time, effort and monies toward habitat improvement. So, join a Stream Team, monitor water quality in a local creek for a class project, get involved in fish habitat issues as an angler group, and conduct business affairs in a sound manner. We can play a big part in making a fish’s home its castle.

Sir Bassalot will appreciate our efforts!

Steve Eder, Fisheries Division Administratorp

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