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A small, straw-yellow colored fish with brown markings
Information icon Photo by Jeremy Shute, Conservation Fisheries, Inc.

Recovery plan available for endangered Cumberland darter

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing the availability of the recovery plan for the Cumberland darter, a fish listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The darter is found in the upper Cumberland River drainage, above Cumberland Falls, in southeastern Kentucky and north central Tennessee. Its recovery plan describes actions necessary for its recovery, establishes criteria for delisting it, and estimates the time and cost for implementing necessary recovery actions.

A small fish, the Cumberland darter attains a maximum length of two inches. It inhabits pools or shallow runs of streams with sand, silt, or sand-covered bedrock substrates.

The darter is threatened primarily by factors associated with the destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range. Threats include a variety of human-induced impacts such as sedimentation, disturbance of riverside corridors, and changes in channel morphology. The most significant of these impacts is siltation caused by excessive releases of sediment from activities such as resource extraction (e.g., coal mining, logging, and natural gas development), agriculture, road construction, and urban development.

The primary goal for recovery of the Cumberland darter is to ensure viable populations exist throughout the darter’s historical range. To achieve this, the Service will continue to work with conservation partners including the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), Kentucky Division of Water, Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Conservation Fisheries, Inc. and U.S. Forest Service.

To delist the darter, a viable population must exist in each of the nine management units specified in the darter’s recovery plan and/or in one additional stream within the darter’s historical range. The habitat within these streams must be protected from present and foreseeable habitat threats through recovery efforts like land acquisition, conservation agreements and easements, stewardship, habitat restoration, outreach, and adequate regulatory oversight and enforcement. In addition, the quality within all of these streams must be sufficient to sustain darter populations.

Some recovery efforts have already contributed to the conservation of the darter and its habitat.

In 2008, KDFWR initiated a propagation and reintroduction project for the darter in the upper Cumberland River drainage. With the help of Service funding, KDFWR worked cooperatively with Conservation Fisheries, Inc., to develop captive propagation protocols for the species and to produce juvenile Cumberland darters that could be reintroduced within the species’ historical range. Since December 2008, almost 5,000 tagged darters have been introduced into Cogur Fork, a tributary of Indian Creek in McCreary County, Kentucky. Annual surveys using seine hauls and visual inspections have documented darter movements and have produced consistent evidence of Cumberland Darter reproduction and recruitment.

From 2010 through 2012, the Service worked cooperatively with McCreary County, Kentucky, the University of Louisville Stream Institute, and the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust to remove a collapsing culvert on Sid Anderson Branch, a tributary of Rock Creek of the Jellico Creek system in southeastern Kentucky. This restoration effort was significant for the Cumberland darter because Rock Creek contains critical habitat for the species, and the Sid Anderson Branch confluence is situated upstream of the critical habitat unit. Post-restoration surveys completed in November 2013 and December 2015 demonstrated that the project was a success, with the new culvert no longer inhibiting fish passage.


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 can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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