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Fish Protection Move May Risk Missouri Economic Growth

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PERRYVILLE, Mo. (AP) - A federal effort to protect a rare tiny fish found only in five southeast Missouri cave systems could stamp on economic development in the same area, local officials have warned.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will present plans at a meeting Tuesday in Perryville to have the Grotto sculpin added to the endangered list and designate its critical habitat for protection.

The fishes are only found in 36 square miles of underground aquatic habitat and 19 miles of surface stream in Perry County, an area that includes the Perryville Industrial Park, Perryville City Manager Brent Buerck told The Southeast Missourian.

Any company wanting to move to the area, or one that wants to expand its current premises, would require federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or other federal agencies, Buerck said.

“As best I understand it, anything that either receives federal money or requires federal approval would have a second layer of review,” Buerck said. “Projects may be required to add additional safeguards beyond what is already required by law to protect this fish or its habitat.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service first identified the Grotto sculpin as a potentially endangered species in 2002 because of a decline in water quality. It said biologists have documented two mass die-offs in the Perry County cave systems in the past decade because of pollution from a single source entering groundwater.

Wildlife service spokeswoman Shauna Marquardt said her agency wants to work with residents to figure out how to protect the fish in a way that is agreeable to everyone.

“This process is not meant to change the way of life or how people operate their business or agricultural practices,” she said.

Tuesday’s meeting is one of the first of a series of steps required before the wildlife service can implement its plans. Marquardt said the agency will address every comment it receives, which could take some time.

The agency also will conduct an economic analysis that will consider the impact of the habitat designation on activities above ground, she said, and eventually it will be posted for public comment.

“What the final direction and product is, we don’t know at this point because we don’t know what the public comments will be,” Marquardt said.

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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