Midwest Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
News Release
September 25, 2013

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lists the Grotto Sculpin as Endangered

Grotto Sculpin courtesy of Brad Probst/Missouri Department of Conservation.
Grotto Sculpin courtesy of Brad Probst/Missouri Department of Conservation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the grotto sculpin, a small, cave-dwelling fish found only in Perry County, Missouri, as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Service also determined that areas proposed as critical habitat for the species are excluded based on a comprehensive conservation plan developed by Perry County officials and other partners.

Under the Endangered Species Act, endangered means a plant or animal is in danger of becoming extinct. The Act protects listed species from take – harming, killing or harassing – and identifies critical habitat needed by the species to survive. The Act also focuses resources on recovery planning and projects, many in partnership with states, local governments, tribes and conservation groups. The Service’s decision appears in the September 23, 2013, Federal Register and becomes effective October 25, 2013.

The Service will not designate any lands as critical habitat based on a cooperative effort among the Service, citizens and government of Perry County, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The partners developed the Perry County Community Conservation Plan that addresses specific threats to the grotto sculpin and its habitat.

"Perry County has worked hard to minimize the silt and surface materials getting into the cave system," said Frank Wideman, chair of the Perry County Economic and Environment Committee.  "Over the next couple of months we will be putting the meat into our watershed plan for the Perry County karst area.   I think we can build a plan that allows us to protect our water quality and the environment, and still be economically efficient."

“The residents of Perry County are to be commended for their forward-looking approach to addressing water quality issues in their county,” said Amy Salveter, the Service’s project leader for ecological services in Columbia, Missouri. “The partners have developed a plan that will not only conserve the habitat of the grotto sculpin, but will conserve and safeguard the water that supports the entire community.”

The Service first identified the grotto sculpin as a candidate for protection in 2002, due to a decline in water quality in the cave systems inhabited by the sculpin. Biologists have documented two mass die-offs in the cave systems in the past decade due to pollution at a single source entering groundwater. The Service proposed listing the grotto sculpin as endangered, with critical habitat, on September 27, 2012.

The grotto sculpin is a cave-dwelling fish that is adapted to living in constant darkness. Grotto sculpins occupy cave streams, resurgences (also known as “spring branches”), springs, and two surface streams in Perry County, Missouri.

The area where the grotto sculpin lives is characterized by hundreds of caves and thousands of sinkholes, where pollutants and other substances can rapidly find their way to underground waterways. The main threat to the grotto sculpin is water quality degradation and siltation in its habitat. Water quality is affected by contaminated agricultural runoff, sinkhole dumps, industrialization, and vertical drains installed without appropriate best management practices.

The final rule listing the grotto sculpin as endangered is part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan that resolves a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA Listing Program. The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce litigation-driven workloads and allow the agency to focus its resources on the species most in need of the ESA’s protections over the next five years.

For more information on the grotto sculpin and the Perry County Community Conservation Plan, go to


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Last updated: June 15, 2016