Q&A with Jimmy Evans

April 17, 2013 

Q&A with Jimmy Evans

City of Residence: Fort Valley

Occupation: Senior fishery biologist, Fishery Section, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

QUESTION: How long has the wildlife resources-fishery office been in Fort Valley?

ANSWER: About 60 years.

QUESTION: What does it do?

ANSWER: It encompasses 50 counties from the Chattahoochee River on the west to the Savannah River on the east. Peach County is at one end and Atlanta the other. The region headquarters office is in Fort Valley with four outlying offices.

QUESTION: What are some of the office’s responsibilities?

ANSWER: We have a wide range of responsibilities related to rivers, lakes and ponds and their fish and other populations. It ranges from research and environmental issues to education and promoting fishing to operating hatcheries.

Our highest priority involves fish kill investigation. If I got word right now of a fish kill I’d have to stop and respond.

QUESTION: Describe that.

ANSWER: We respond to reports of dead fish. We head to the site and are typically be first on the scene along with the EPA. We follow the problem to the source to determine cause and collect samples to build a body of evidence that can withstand legal scrutiny. We ID and count every dead fish and get its length, whether it’s 10 fish or a thousand. We have to be able to determine a monetary value.

QUESTION: How many such investigations a year?

ANSWER: There were 12 major fish kills last year.

QUESTION: What are a few other areas of responsibility?

ANSWER: We do sport fish management on 12 major reservoirs and six major rivers in our region. There are also smaller lakes, state park lakes and other bodies of water. We operate nine hatcheries statewide with two warm water hatcheries in our region. Public fishing is another area. There are four in our region, one just below Perry on U.S. 41. We promote Kids Fishing Events to promote fishing among youngsters. Also in Perry, there’s the Go Fish Georgia Education Center near the Georgia National Fairgrounds. We don’t administer it but it’s nearby and related to what we do.

The state’s boating access group works out of this office as well. They build and maintain all the state boat ramps you see, either directly or through contractors.

QUESTION: Does the office only deal with public waterways?

ANSWER: No, we spend a good bit of time with private water management, like with farm ponds. We provide used to provide on-site visits but now it’s done through walk-ins, phone or email.

QUESTION: How about environmental issues and research?

ANSWER: We’re constantly doing environmental studies and reviews to determine potential impact of projects of all types on aquatic resources, fish populations and such. That includes hydroelectric power plants, DOT road crossings, pipeline crossings, sewer treatment plants, dam construction or removal -- whatever. Hydroelectric plants are recertified every 30 to 50 years and studies take years, so we’re constantly working on those with other regulatory agencies.

We also have special projects that come up unexpectedly.

QUESTION: You’re somewhat well known for one unexpected project.

ANSWER: In 1991, Wayne Clark and I discovered a fish in the Oconee that no one had seen for 120 years, the robust redhorse. From that day to this it’s been a path of discovery.

QUESTION: How did that happen?

ANSWER: We were taking samples and collected five large fish that puzzled us. We knew what kind of fish were supposed to be there and they weren’t supposed to be. We researched them and discovered they had been 120 years ago but not seen since. No one had reported more about them; they had just dropped off the scene, were forgotten and assumed extinct. We later found some others in Georgia and the Carolinas. We’re still scratching our heads how this group survived on a 40 mile stretch on the Oconee, but we began piecing the puzzle together.

QUESTION: That’s obviously been a long-term project.

ANSWER: The agency gave us the go-ahead and resources to pursue it and we were joined by agencies in North and South Carolina as well as power companies and other concerned parties. It’s been a good, cooperative effort bringing the population back. They could have gone on the federal endangered species list and caused a lot of confrontation and butting heads but instead it’s been a model of cooperation -- even through disagreements.

QUESTION: How do things stand now?

ANSWER: Like I said, it’s been a journey of discovery. There weren’t any rules how to deal with something like this, but we’re happy how far we’ve come. We’ve come from discovering the small population to promoting species growth through our hatcheries and now we’re away from the hatcheries seeing if there is a sustainable robust redhorse fish population in our waters. That’s been our goal. We’re determining now if they are reproducing successfully and fish are moving into the adult population. It’s definitely been one of the biggest endangered species projects in the southeast. We’re not at the end of the line yet, but we’re getting there. You can see robust redhorse fish at Go Fish.

QUESTION: Must feel rewarding.

ANSWER: I’ve been here 28 years and I have no doubt I picked the right field for me. I’m blessed to be out working on the river many days in addition to doing all the paperwork any job requires. Of course, some days when you’re out counting fish in 100 degree weather you wonder, but I can’t imagine more rewarding or diverse work. Work with the robust redhorse, and all those who joined in has been truly rewarding.

People think there’s nothing left to know or discover, but you run across something like this and it really takes you back and sets you on your heels.

Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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