Press Release
Service Protects Population of Frecklebelly Madtom Under Endangered Species Act
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A small population of a rare species of catfish now has federal protection. 

Following a review of the best available science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finalizing the rule to list the frecklebelly madtom as threatened where it occurs in the Upper Coosa River in Georgia and Tennessee. The rule, which would provide protections to this distinct population segment (DPS), also includes critical habitat and a 4(d) rule for this population. 

The frecklebelly madtom is a small catfish that inhabits channels and tributaries of medium to large river systems in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. However, the Service determined the Upper Coosa River unit is a valid DPS of the frecklebelly madtom in Georgia and Tennessee, and protections should only occur in these states. 

“Protecting this distinct population segment allows the Service to conserve species and the ecosystems upon which they depend,” said Mike Oetker, Acting Regional Director for the Southeast Region. “This step will help prevent a largescale decline of the frecklebelly madtom as we continue to work with our partners to recover this population and benefit wildlife throughout the watershed.” 

Critical Habitat  

The critical habitat designation for the Upper Coosa River DPS of the frecklebelly madtom consists of approximately 134 stream miles in two units in Georgia and Tennessee. Critical habitat does not include riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

Learn more about riparian
areas, only instream habitat to the high-water mark. Unit 1 consists of approximately 51.5 stream miles of the Conasauga River in Whitfield and Murray counties, Georgia, continuing upstream through Bradley County to Polk County, Tennessee.  Unit 2 consists of approximately 82.5 stream miles of the Etowah River beginning in Cherokee County, Georgia, continuing upstream through Forsyth and Dawson counties and ending in Lumpkin County, Georgia. Both units are occupied by the species and contain most of the physical or biological features essential to its conservation.  

Both units of critical habitat overlap with multiple listed species, such as the amber and trispot darters and freshwater mussels like the southern clubshell and fine-lined pocketbook. No other river basin in North America has a higher percentage of endemic species as the Upper Coosa River, which researchers call a “globally significant biological treasure.”   

4(d) Rule  

A 4(d) rule identifies activities that are beneficial or not otherwise harmful to the species and provides avenues for those activities to continue without restriction or regulation. The final 4(d) rule for the frecklebelly madtom will provide exceptions to incidental take (harming or harassing a species) for the following:  channel restoration projects, streambank restoration projects, and activities carried out under the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) program, which provides technical and financial assistance to help landowners improve water quality and help plan and implement a variety of conservation activities that benefit aquatic species or similar projects.    

Based on information the Service received during the comment period, an exception was added for silviculture practices and forest management activities that use state-approved best management practices. 

The frecklebelly madtom is currently recognized by Georgia and Tennessee as a species of concern. This species is listed as endangered by the state of Georgia and threatened by the state of Tennessee. In general, protections afforded to the frecklebelly madtom by the states prohibit harming species.  

The complete final rule can be obtained by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal: at Docket Number FWS–R4–ES–2020-0058.  

Download the Species Status Assessment, or learn more about this decision by reading the Frequently Asked Questions.  

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.  For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit  Connect with us on Facebook at, follow our tweets at, watch our YouTube Channel at, and download photos from our Flickr page at  

Story Tags

Endangered and/or Threatened species
Freshwater fish