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Four Fish Species Proposed for Reintroduction into Tennessee's Tellico River


June 8, 2001

Richard Biggins, 704/258-3939, Ext. 228
Christine Eustis, 404/679-7287

As part of a broad partnership to recover threatened and endangered species in the Tennessee River system, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to reintroduce four native fish into the Tellico River in Monroe County, Tennessee.

The reintroduced fish would be classified as a non-essential experimental population under the Endangered Species Act, meaning that anyone accidently killing or harming the fish would not be in violation of the law. State, federal, and local projects would not have to be altered or stopped to protect these fish.

Although there are no confirmed historical records, biologists believe the four fish -- the endangered duskytail darter, the endangered smoky madtom, the threatened yellowfin madtom, and the threatened spotfin chub -- likely inhabited the Tellico River in the past.

The Tellico River is a Little Tennessee River tributary that is just downstream from the mouths of Abrams and Citico Creeks, and all four fishes were found in these creeks. Before the construction of reservoirs on the main stem of the Little Tennessee River, no physical barriers prevented the movement of these fish between Abrams Creek, Citico Creek, and the Tellico River.

"By reintroducing experimental populations of these species into their former habitat, along with other recovery efforts, we hope to improve the status of these fish to the point where they no longer need Endangered Species Act protection," said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service's Southeast Regional Director. "We have already had some success reintroducing all four of these fish species into Abrams Creek in Blount County, Tennessee."

The reintroduction is part of a major initiative by federal and state agencies and private conservation groups to restore and recover native species in the Tennessee River system. Since the mid-1980's, Conservation Fisheries, Inc. (CFI), a nonprofit fish conservation organization located in Knoxville, Tennessee, has been successfully reintroducing these four species into Abrams Creek with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, and Tennessee Aquarium. The proposed reintroduction effort into the Tellico River was developed at the request of the executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. CFI has confirmed that approximately 10 miles of the Tellico River, above the backwaters of the Tellico Reservoir, have areas of suitable habitat for the reintroduction of all four fishes.

Once found throughout the middle and upper reaches of the Tennessee River System, the threatened spotfin chub (Cyprinella [=Hybopsis] monacha) now occurs only in a few Tennessee River tributaries. The small fish, growing to a size of up to three and a half inches, has a life span of less than four years and inhabits moderate to large streams with pools and riffles.

The threatened yellowfin madtom (Noturus flavipinnis) is a small catfish measuring up to about five inches. It usually feeds at night and is found in small-to-moderate sized, warm streams, usually in the quiet sections of pools and backwaters. The yellowfin madtom exists in the Powell River and Citico Creek in Tennessee and Copper Creek in Virginia.

Another small catfish, the endangered smoky madtom (Noturus baileyi) grows to two and a half inches in length. Like the yellowfin, the smoky madtom is a nocturnal feeder. With a current population of 500 to 1,000 individuals, the smoky madtom was once restricted to Citico Creek, a tributary of the Little Tennessee River in Monroe County, Tennessee. Now, however, a reintroduced population is successfully reproducing in Abrams Creek.

The endangered duskytail darter (Etheostoma percnurum) is a two-and-a-half inch fish which feeds primarily on large, aquatic insects. It is found in tributaries of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. Habitat degradation is the primary cause of each species' decline.

A nonessential experimental population would mean that these four listed species would remain protected by the Endangered Species Act. However, the Act's regulatory requirements are significantly reduced for these populations. For example, the Act requires that Federal agencies confer with the Service on actions that the Federal agency itself finds are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the reintroduced species. However, agencies are not required by the Act to take any actions to conserve a nonessential experimental population as otherwise would be the case for threatened and endangered species. Therefore, the Service does not expect the reintroduction to have any impact on these agencies or their activities.

The Service has also proposed special rules stating that there would be no violation of the Act for the accidental and incidental killing or injuring of these reintroduced fish. For instance, if a person inadvertently takes a reintroduced species while engaged in a legal activity such as boating, fishing, or wading, and the resulting injury to or death of the fish is not considered the result of negligence, then no violation will have been committed.

"Substantial regulatory relief is provided through nonessential, experimental population designations. We do not believe that the reintroduction of these four species will conflict with any existing or proposed human activities or hinder public use of the Tellico River or its watershed," said Hamilton.

The Service invites the public, concerned government agencies, the scientific community, industry, and other interested parties to submit comments or recommendations concerning any aspect of this proposed rule to establish nonessential experimental populations.

Comments and materials concerning this proposal should be sent to the State Supervisor, Asheville Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 160 Zillicoa Street, Asheville, North Carolina 28801, telephone 828/258-3939, extension 228, fax 828/258-5330, e-mail Richard_Biggins@fws.gov. All comments must be received by August 7, 2001.

Questions regarding this proposed rule should be addressed to Mr. Richard G. Biggins at the above address, telephone number, or e-mail address.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://southeast.fws.gov. Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/.

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2001 News Releases

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