Asheville Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America





Spotfin chub
Erimonax monachus

Status: Threatened

Description: The spotfin chub is a small, slender fish, not exceeding four inches in length. Juveniles, females, and non-breeding males have tan-, gray-, or olive-colored backs, bright silvery sides, and white bellies. A dark spot is sometimes visible at the base of the tail. Large breeding males have olive or tan backs, brilliant iridescent turquoise or cobalt blue on the upper sides of their bodies and mid-sides and bellies that are silvery cream. Their fins are satiny turquoise and sometimes have a gold glint. The spotfin chub spawns from mid-May to mid-August. Females deposit eggs in crevices between rocks. Males fertilize the eggs and stay to defend the eggs by swimming repeatedly over the nest site. Although some individuals may spawn at one year, most spotfin chubs reach sexual maturity at two years. Spotfins apparently do not live past three years. The spotfin chub feeds by sight and taste on tiny insect larvae on the stream bottom.

Habitat: Spotfin chubs inhabit clear water over gravel, boulders, and bedrock in large creeks and medium-sized rivers having moderate current. This fish is rarely seen over sand, and appears to avoid silty areas.

Range: The spotfin chub is known historically from twelve Tennessee River tributaries in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. However, much of the species’ historical habitat has been destroyed or seriously altered. Today it survives in four isolated tributary systems – the Buffalo River, Lewis County, Tennessee; Emory River (including the Obed River, Clear Creek, and Daddy’s Creek), Morgan, Cumberland, and Fentess Counties, Tennessee; North Fork Holston River, Hawkins and Sullivan Counties, Tennessee, and Scott and Washington Counties, Virginia; the Little Tennessee River, Macon and Swain Counties, North Carolina; and the Cheoah River, Graham County, North Carolna.

Listing: Threatened, September 9, 1977. 42 FR 45526 45530

Critical habitat: Designated, September 9, 1977Map: Spotfin chub in North Carolina

Threats:  Agriculture (both crop and livestock) and forestry operations, mining activities, highway and road construction, residential and industrial developments, and other construction and land-clearing activities that do not adequately control soil erosion and storm-water run-off contribute excessive amounts of silt, pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals, and other pollutants. The run-off of storm water from cleared areas, roads, rooftops, parking lots, and other developed areas, which is often ditched or piped directly into streams, not only results in stream pollution but also results in increased water volume and velocity during heavy rains. The high volume and velocity cause channel and stream-bank scouring that leads to the degradation and elimination of fish habitat. Construction and land-clearing operations are particularly detrimental when they result in the alteration of flood plains or the removal of forested stream buffers that ordinarily would help maintain water quality and the stability of stream banks and channels by absorbing, filtering, and slowly releasing rainwater. When storm water run-off increases from land-clearing activities, less water is absorbed to recharge ground water levels. Therefore, flows during dry months can decrease and adversely affect mussels and other aquatic organisms.

Why should we be concerned about the loss of species? Extinction is a natural process that has been occurring since long before the appearance of humans. Normally, new species develop, through a process known as speciation, at about the same rate other species become extinct. However, because of air and water pollution, forest clearing, loss of wetlands, and other man-induced environmental changes, extinctions are now occurring at a rate that far exceeds the speciation rate.

All living things are part of a complex and interconnected network. The removal of a single species cans set off a chain reaction that could affect many other species. Fore example, the loss of a single plant species can result in the disappearance of up to 30 other species of animals and plants. Each extinction diminishes the diversity and complexity of life on earth.

Endangered species are indicators of the health of our environment. The loss of these plants and animals is a sign that the quality of our environment – air, land, and water – is declining. Gradual freshwater fish die-offs, such as the declining spotfin chub, and sudden fish kills are reliable indicators of water pollution problems. While poor environmental quality may first manifest itself in the health of our plant and animals populations, if untreated, it eventually affects humans directly, as we breathe polluted air, lose valuable topsoil to erosion, or get sick from swimming in contaminated water.

We depend on the diversity of plant and animal life for our recreation, nourishment, many of our lifesaving medicines, and the ecological functions they provide. One-quarter of all the prescriptions written in the United States today contain chemicals that were originally discovered in plants and animals. Industry and agriculture are increasingly making use of wild plants, seeking out the remaining wild strain of many common crops, such as wheat and corn, to produce new hybrids that are more resistant to disease, pests, and marginal climatic conditions. Our food crops depend on insects and other animals for pollination. Healthy forests clean the air and provide oxygen for us to breathe. Wetlands clean water and help minimize the impacts of floods. These services are the foundation of life and depend on a diversity of plants and animals working in concert. Each time a species disappears, we lose not only those benefits we know it provided but other benefits that we have yet to realize.

What you can do to help:
Establish and maintain forested stream-side buffers. Several federal, state, and private programs are available to assist landowners, both technically and financially, with restoring and protecting stream-side buffers and eroding streams.

Implement and maintain measures for controlling erosion and storm water during and after land-clearing and disturbance activities. Excess soil in our streams from erosion is one of the greatest water pollution problems we have today.

Be careful with the use and disposal of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals. Remember, what you put on your land or dump down the drain may eventually wind up in nearby water. 

Support local, state and national clean water legislation.

Report illegal dumping activities, erosion, and sedimentation problems. These activities affect the quality of our water, for drinking, fishing, and swimming.

Participate in the protection of our remaining wild lands and the restoration of damaged ecosystems.

Prepared by:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Asheville Field Office
160 Zillicoa Street 
Asheville, North Carolina 28801 
(828) 258-3939

October, 2011




Species Contact:

Jay Mays
office - 828/258-3939, ext. 226
fax - 828/258-5330
160 Zillicoa St.
Asheville, NC 28801
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Last Updated: May 13, 2015