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Endangered and Threatened Fishes Return to Home Waters in Tennessee
Photo Credit: Conservation Fisheries, Inc.
Five federally endangered and threatened fish species – smoky madtom, yellowfin madtom, duskytail darter, spotfin chub, and boulder darter – have been reintroduced to streams in central Tennessee where they were once found to help speed their recovery. Efforts to establish non-essential experimental populations in these waters will improve the status of these species to the point where Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection is no longer necessary for their survival.
Reintroducing species into areas where they formerly occurred is often done for species whose populations have been fragmented because their habitats have been altered. Streams where threats are minor and manageable are ideal for such reintroduction efforts, as are streams with are managed as national forests or parks. However, the presence of endangered species on federal lands may result in time delays for consultation on federal projects or routine activities. Fortunately, the establishment of non-essential experimental populations allows for the re-establishment of an endangered species without adding a regulatory burden to federal agencies or to members of the public—a win-win for people and wildlife.
There are a number of partners contributing to these efforts to restore these fishes in Tennessee, including the Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Cherokee National Forest, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, National Park Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Tennessee Aquarium.
Photo Credit: Conservation Fisheries, Inc.
Biologists have released smoky madtom (Noturus baileyi), yellowfin madtom (Noturus flavipinnis), duskytail darter (Etheostoma percnurum), and spotfin chub (Erimonax monachus) into the Tellico River in Monroe County. In 2002, Conservation Fisheries, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Knoxville, Tennessee, began captive propagation efforts for smoky madtom, yellowfin madtom, and duskytail darter to support these reintroduction efforts. Eggs collected from nests in nearby Citico Creek have been used to reproduce young for these reintroduction efforts.
Biologists have also released boulder darter (Etheostoma wapiti) and spotfin chub propagated by Conservation Fisheries, Inc. into Shoal Creek in Lawrence and Wayne counties. The boulder darter and spotfin chub were last collected from Shoal Creek in the 1880s, and since then both were believed to have been eliminated from this reach after the impoundment of the lower creek by Wilson Reservoir, siltation from agricultural erosion, and pollution from an industrial facility upstream. In 2005, following improvements to water quality, a free-flowing portion of Shoal Creek in Lawrence County was designated as a non-essential experimental population. This population will re-establish the boulder darter into a portion of its historical range.
Establishing populations of the different fish species in different locations, so no one event could likely cause their extinction, is an essential element of the strategy to recover them so that they no longer need the protections of the ESA. Biologists have confirmed that these fishes are naturally reproducing within their respective non-essential experimental population areas. As these re-established populations continue to expand on their own, the future for these species will grow brighter as they move one step closer to potential downlisting and recovery.
Stephanie Chance, a fish and wildlife biologist in the Service's Tennessee Ecological Services Field Office, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 931-528-6481, ext. 211.
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