Founders

Pat Rakes | Co-Director | xenisma@gmail.com

Pat has been studying rare fishes since he began his master’s degree project at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1982 studying the distribution and life history of the Barrens Topminnow. This work laid the foundation for efforts that continue today with ark maintenance of BTM populations at CFI. Pat and J.R. founded CFI just after finishing graduate school projects and both are in awe of how it has grown since then.

 

Years of maintaining aquaria have led to an appreciation of the art and science (the “wet thumb”) involved in keeping fish alive and healthy (and interested in sex). The rewards of co-directing CFI have not been monetary, but rich in constant learning, studying the life history, ecology, reproductive biology, distribution, and taxonomy of rare fish in Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. And the snorkeling that was a novel technique for monitoring rare fish 30 years ago never gets old.

J. R. Shute | Co-Director | jrshute55@gmail.com

J.R. has been studying rare and imperiled fishes in the southeastern U.S. for more than 35 years. J.R. and his wife Peggy moved to Knoxville in 1981 to pursue graduate degrees in Zoology at the University of Tennessee under the direction of the famed Dr. David Etnier. There J.R. and Peggy raised their family while both continued interests in rare fish, and established their own approaches for furthering aquatic conservation. Following graduate school, CFI was formally established in 1986 and later incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1992. Peggy is recently retired from the position of Deputy Field Supervisor with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Cookeville, TN office.

 

CFI, under the direction of J.R. and Pat, has partnered with many federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and private individuals to increase our ecological knowledge for more than 60 species of rare and under-appreciated southeastern freshwater fishes. With their partners, their efforts have contributed to the improved status of many, with the eventual goal of removal from Endangered Species Act protection seeming closer to reality. For other species, their pro-active projects, with partner support, likely prevented the need for federal endangered species listing.

Staff

Crystal Ruble | Senior Conservation Biologist, Facility Manager and Field Coordinator | crystal.ruble@gmail.com

Crystal plays a dual role at Conservation Fisheries as the Facility Manager and Field Coordinator. Crystal completed her undergraduate degree at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, earning a BS degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a second major in Psychology. In 2013 she completed her Masters degree through the University of West Virgina, while still working at CFI. Her graduate work consisted of a comparative study of the early life histories of three darters in the Etheostoma maculatum species complex as well as describing the life history of the diamond darter, Crystallaria cincotta.

 

Crystal Ruble has been working with CFI since January 2004 . She has a diverse interest in all animals and nature, but started culturing her “wet thumb” in high school while owning and working with fish. Her interest continued throughout high school and college where she worked for a couple local pet stores in their aquatics department. This experience made her a perfect candidate to start her career at CFI.

 

Missy Petty | Senior Conservation Biologist, Contract and Data Manager | missypetty73@gmail.com

J.R. Shute and Pat Rakes inspired me to work with imperiled native fishes initially while volunteering then working at CFI (1998-2001) while earning my B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science (minor Forestry) from the University of Tennessee. I graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2001 and went on to Virginia Tech to earn my M.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Science in 2005. Thesis: Distribution, genetic characterization, and life history of the James Spinymussel (Pleurobema collina) in Virginia and North Carolina.

 

I worked for four years as a Research Assistant at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Center in Blacksburg, VA prior to rejoining CFI in 2008 as the Facility Data Manager and a Senior Field Biologist. I work to consolidate and organize the vast amount of information from CFI's hatchery and field work over the years in order to help with reports and permitting for various state agencies as well as participating in field and hatchery work. 

Rebecca Xiques | Conservation Biologist | scuba4rx@gmail.com

Rebecca started working with CFI in July of 2009 and has been a welcome addition to the Hatchery Technician staff. Rebecca received her BS Degree at Eckerd College in Florida and her MS Degree at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina studying Leatherback sea turtles.

 

Rebecca has a great enthusiasm for learning about our southeastern imperiled fishes and has been a valuable addition to our team. She loves working on construction projects with improving systems and setting them up for breeding.  She is very ingenuitive and that is a very valuable asset to CFI.  

Derek Wheaton | Conservation Biologist | wheatonderek@gmail.com

Derek has been a lover of fish and aquatic animals since he was tall enough to see into the family aquarium. As a teenager, he became aware of the incredible variety and diversity of North American fishes. He started keeping his own aquariums with native species, became an active member of the North American Native Fishes Association (NANFA), and it was about the time he was entering college that he realized he wanted to dedicate his career to working with fish. During and after college, he spent many years in the retail pet industry (specializing in aquatics, of course), and continued to hone his skills at captive husbandry of fish, particularly native species. He then worked for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for several years, working state-wide, mainly with rare and non-game fish species. However, once he heard about the work done at Conservation Fisheries, he knew that’s where he wanted to end up.

Derek not only has a keen professional interest in fish, but much of his free time is spent on his home aquariums, snorkeling, and photographing our native fish species in their natural habitats. Derek runs a social media page called Enchanting Ectotherms, with the purpose of sharing images of our native species in order to make the public aware of the aquatic treasure hidden in our waters. He helps manage River Snorkeling, a community that promotes snorkeling in freshwater as a method of being immersed in nature and learning about aquatic life. He also continues to be an active member of NANFA, serving as a Tennessee regional representative and a member of the board of directors.

Derek joined the team at CFI in April of 2017 and has been a great resource in the hatchery as well as the field.

John T Baxter (Bo) | Senior Conservation Biologist | agapetus@conservationfisheries.org

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John T. Baxter, Jr. (Bo) returned to CFI in June 2020 after a 20-year diversion with a well-known regional utility and natural resource management agency. Thanks Peggy! Bo earned a B.S. (1993) and M.S. (1996) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (studying under renowned ichthyologist Dr. David Etnier), cataloging fish species in the Upper Cumberland River system in Tennessee as his M.S. project.  He had the privilege of teaching the UTK Ichthyology course for two years following Etnier’s retirement. 

Bo started his career in the endangered fish propagation business working in the back room at the aquarium store Aquatic Specialists where J.R. and Pat maintained a few tanks of madtoms that would become CFI. He worked on-and-off for CFI from 1989 until 2000. Bringing experience in fish culture, fish survey, report- and grant-writing (and a variety of other useful and semi-useful skills), Bo is looking forward to “getting his hands wet again” and contributing to the recovery of aquatic fish species in the Southeast.

Evan Poellinger | Conservation Biologist | evpoellinger@gmail.com

Evan started investing in the personal hobby of aquaria keeping in 2010. Over the next few years he became involved in NANFA and became increasingly interested in non-game fishes. This very specific interest at such a young age led Evan to begin reading peer reviewed literature because of a lack of hobbyist materials. In 2012 Evan attended the NANFA convention in Ohio where he met Konrad Schmidt, who became his mentor. During Evan's time with Konrad he learned identification skills and collection techniques.


Evan did attend a year of college at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse in pursuit of a degree in biology immediately after completing high school, but took time away to re-evaluate the program. He hopes to enroll in UTK in the future because of its strong history with Ichthyology and non-game fish emphasis.

 

Evan joined the team at CFI in January of 2018. His enthusiasm for native non-game fish has made him a perfect fit to our team in the hatchery.

Shannon Murphy | Conservation Biologist | shannonpaulettemurphy@gmail.com

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Shannon received her Bachelors of Science in both Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and Environmental Biology from Tennessee Technological University in May of 2019. During her time at Tech, she conducted undergraduate research looking at the diel migration of small stream fishes between riffle and pool habitats. Shannon was also active in the Student Fisheries Association, serving as the Undergraduate Representative and then President of the chapter. For the summer of 2018, she completed an internship at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute working in the Propagation Room as an Aquaculture Assistant. This experience sparked a passion for reintroduction aquaculture and an even deeper respect for freshwater ecosystems.

 

Shannon joined the team at CFI in February of 2020 after returning to The States from the Panamanian jungle where she worked as a Biology Teaching Assistant and managed small Tilapia ponds. Her interest in joining us at CFI stemmed from a desire for structure and close observation that comes from working with rare and endangered species, as opposed to working in a less interactive environment.

 

Ever since she was in elementary school Shannon has been intrigued by endangered species and is humbled to be able to work so closely with them in a professional setting. She soon hopes to pursue a Master's Degree looking at how freshwater microplastics may be impacting our native fish species, as well as the potential impacts on the human consumption and use of freshwater that contains microplastics.

Peggy Shute | Volunteer Public Liaison and Technical Writer | pwshute@gmail.com

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Peggy Shute has extensive practical and management experience with endangered species and Endangered Species Act compliance and recovery as a result of her graduate research at the University of Tennessee and nearly three decades in public service with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Her graduate research project resulted in recommendations that allowed Cherokee National Forest (CNF) resource managers to reverse drastic declines in the status of the Yellowfin Madtom in the CNF. These academic/agency management discussions and partnerships and Pat Rakes and J.R. Shute's aquarium expertise set the stage for CFI's flagship Abrams Creek reintroduction project that included Yellowfin Madtom.

 

Peggy's public service career provided her with a broad understanding of agency regulatory environments and established relationships with a variety of contacts working in conservation biology fields in the southeastern U.S. She is uniquely qualified to act as CFI's Volunteer Public Liaison and Technical Writer, and thrilled to be able to continue to support endangered species recovery at CFI!