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Four Fish Species to be Reintroduced into Tennessee's Tellico River


August 12, 2002

Jim Rothschild, 404/679-7291

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

"By reintroducing experimental populations of these species into their former habitat, along with other recovery efforts, the Service and its partners 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 reintroduced species will be classified as non-essential experimental populations under the Endangered Species Act, ensuring that anyone killing or harming the fish as the incidental result of otherwise lawful activities would not be in violation of the law. State, Federal, and local projects would not be affected.

Although there are no confirmed historical records, biologists believe the four species -- 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.

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., 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 planned reintroduction effort into the Tellico River was developed at the request of the executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Conservation Fisheries, Inc, 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 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 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, 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 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 (NEP) designation means that these four listed species will 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 finds are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the reintroduced species. However, agencies are not required by the Act to modify their actions to protect NEPs, as might otherwise be the case for threatened and endangered species. Therefore, the Service does not expect the reintroductions to have any impact on other Federal agencies or their activities.

The Service has special rules ensuring there would be no violation of the Act when an activity results in incidental killing or injuring of these reintroduced fishes, provided the activity was otherwise legal. For instance, if a person inadvertently injures or kills one of those reintroduced species while engaged in a legal activity such as boating, fishing, wading, or activities associated with agriculture or forestry, 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.

Questions regarding these reintroductions should be addressed to Mr. Bob Butler at the Asheville Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 160 Zillicoa Street, Asheville, North Carolina 28801, telephone 828/258-3939, extension 235, fax 828/258-5330.

Please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Region website at

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