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Hands-On Volunteer Opportunities in Native Fresh Water Fish Conservation

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Involvement in exciting and important conservation work need not be limited to those select few fortunate enough to have turned their hobbies into careers.  Especially in today’s economy, many vital research and recovery efforts rely heavily upon the work of volunteers.  Getting out in the field (or pond, river and swamp, as the case may be!) is a wonderful way of expanding your fish-keeping horizons.  Today I’d like to focus on fresh water species; I’ll cover marine fishes in the future.

Conserving Desert-Dwelling and other Rare Fishes

The North American Native Fish Association http://www.nanfa.org/ sponsors a number of conservation initiatives, all of which utilize volunteers.  Particularly active in the conservation of desert spring fishes and others in similarly precarious habitats, current initiatives include assisting the US F&W Service in removing introduced plants, fishes, crayfish and bullfrogs from critical Moapa spring fish habitat, training university and government researchers in fish sampling techniques and participating in reintroduction efforts. 

NANFA members also get to indulge their fish-keeping interests, establishing native fish aquariums in schools and nature centers and advising caretakers on husbandry and breeding techniques.

A Wide Range of Field and Captive Care Opportunities

The Native Fish Conservancy maintains an extensive collection of articles on native fishes and fish conservation.  If you are unsure of where to start, a review of these would be invaluable in jump-starting the process and providing numerous options. 

Through their “Adopt-A-Tank” program, NFC members also help schools set up and maintain native fish aquariums and assist students in sampling local fish populations…the best of both worlds!

Native Fresh Water Fishes in the Aquarium

Some of our smaller sunfishes have long been popular with aquarists in Europe, but in the USA native fish-keeping is a lost (or barely developed!) art.  I do not quite understand why, as many are interesting, brilliantly colored and little-studied.  Species diversity here is quite high…even over-crowded New York State boasts nearly 150 freshwater fishes, many of which do quite well in captivity (interesting note: more species of fish have been identified in the Amazon River than in the entire Atlantic Ocean!).

North America is populated by a wide variety of gorgeous sunfishes of all sizes (our massive large-mouth bass is, technically, a sunfish).  With colors rivaling those of any tropical species and providing extensive care to their eggs and young, these are, along with yellow perch (please see photo), long-time aquarium favorites of mine.  Another neglected species, the American eel, lived in my collection for 17 years, and a pair of brown bullheads that I bred in an outdoor pond provided a notebook-full of observations that I treasure to this day (males are unbelievably protective of their tadpole-like fry, herding them about for quite some time).

I’ll cover the care of various native fresh water fishes in future articles.  Until then, please write in with your observations, experiences and questions.  Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

Further Reading

The US Fish & Wildlife Service currently lists nearly 150 species of native freshwater fishes as threatened or endangered.  Information on each, along with links to recovery plans (some of which encourage volunteer participation), is posted at www.fws.gov/endangered/wildlife.html#Species.

The Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery  http://www.cshfha.org/ houses an extensive collection of fresh water fishes, amphibians and reptiles, and is well-worth a visit by native fish enthusiasts.


  1. avatar

    Do you have any volunteer positions in Indianapolis, Indiana?

  2. avatar

    Hello Tim, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. A good starting point would be to contact the Indiana Regional Representative of the North American Native Fish Association (the rep is located in Illinois):

    Regional Representative
    Uland Thomas
    450 Longwood Dr.
    Chicago Heights, Illinois, 60411

    Local public aquariums may be able to provide some suggestions as well.

    Good luck and please let me know if you need further information.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar


    I’m interested in volunteer summer work related to water and fish resources. I have a degree and about 30 semester hours in fish biology plus experience with the california fish and game department, california conservation corps, the usda forest service and winston=-salem planning department

    You can reach me by email or phone at 708-499-1715. I live in oak lawn, illinois.


    rudy ferrara

  4. avatar

    Hello Rudy, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Unfortunately I do not know of any specific openings for the upcoming season. The US Fish and Wildlife Service Program mentioned in the article might be a good starting point in your search.

    Public aquariums often take volunteers – those I work with in the NE limit such to education or sometimes assisting keepers in food prep etc., but some may get involved in field research and perhaps utilize volunteers.

    Copeia carried internship announcements in the past, I’ve not seen a recent issue but it is worth checking.

    Sorry I could not be of more assistance, Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.