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About a dozen small fish in a container ready for release
Information icon Cape Fear shiners. Photo by NCWRC.

Cape Fear shiner

Notropis mekistocholas

  • Taxon: Freshwater fish
  • Range: Endemic to the upper Cape Fear River Basin in the Central Piedmont of North Carolina. Known from tributaries and mainstems of the Deep, Haw, Rocky and Upper Cape Fear rivers in Chatham, Harnett, Lee, Moore and Randolph counties.
  • Status: Listed as endangered on Sept. 26, 1987

The Cape Fear shiner is a North American species of freshwater fish in the minnow family. It is only found in the central part of North Carolina, in the Upper Cape Fear River Basin. Listed as endangered, the species has benefited from successful captive breeding. It has also benefited from removal of some of the dams that once led to low population numbers. Experts are hopeful that by implementing strategic efforts and habitat conservation, the Cape Fear shiner can be recovered throughout its range.


A small brownish green fish in an outstretched hand
Cape Fear shiner. Photo by Carol Johnston, Auburn University.

The Cape Fear shiner is a small (about 2 inches long), yellowish minnow with black bands along the sides of its body. The shiner’s fins are yellow and somewhat pointed. It has a black upper lip, and the lower lip bears a thin black bar along its margin. The Cape Fear shiner is known to consume plant and animal material. However, unlike most other minnows in the genus Notropis, the Cape Fear shiner’s digestive tract is modified primarily for a plant diet by having an elongated, convoluted intestine.


The Cape Fear shiner is generally associated with gravel, cobble, and boulder substrates, and has been observed in slow pools, riffles, and slow runs, often with water willow. These areas occasionally support water willow , which may be used as cover or protection from predators (e.g. flathead catfish, bass and crappie). The Cape Fear shiner can be found swimming in schools of other minnow species but is never the most abundant species. During the spawning season, May through July, adult shiners move to slower flowing pools to lay eggs on the rocky substrate. Juveniles are often found in slack water, among large rock outcrops of the midstream, and in flooded side channels and pools. Cape Fear shiners are sexually mature after their first year, and are known to live up to nine years in captivity.


The shiner’s intestines are uniquely adapted to help the fish digest plant material. This makes the Cape Fear shiner stand out within the minnow family - it can eat plant material that other minnows cannot. It has a convoluted gut, kind of like a cow has several stomachs, to help it digest the plant material. The shiner was originally thought to be herbivorous, but recent studies have shown that it actually eats a variety of both plant and animal matter. It is known to eat detritus, bacteria, phytoplankton, diatoms, and algae.

Current range

The species is endemic to the upper Cape Fear River Basin in the Central Piedmont of North Carolina. It is known from tributaries and mainstreams of the Deep, Haw, Rocky, and upper Cape Fear rivers in Chatham, Harnett, Lee, Moore and Randolph counties. Three sub-populations of the shiner are thought to exist. Two of the three sub-populations are very small and unstable and therefore at risk of disappearing. The precise number of shiners in each population is not known, but effective population sizes (i.e., those that consider the number of available breeding individuals) have been estimated at 1,500 to 3,000 individuals.

A map showing Cape Fear shiner locations in Deep River, RockyRiver, Haw River and several other tributaries in Chatam, Lee, Moore, Randolph, and Harnett counties.
Cape Fear shiner distribution in the Upper Cape Fear River Basin. Map by USFWS.

Conservation challenges

Segmentation or separation of sub-populations by dams and loss of river habitat to impoundments are major concerns. Deteriorating water quality at some previously occupied sites make those sites unsuitable for shiners today. Other potential threats to the species and its habitat could come from such activities as changes in streamflow, runoff from agriculture and communities, road construction, impoundments, wastewater discharge, and other development projects in the watershed. The shiner is also threatened by numerous predators, such as crappie, bass, and the invasive flathead catfish.

Partnerships, research and projects


Habitat improvements for the Cape Fear shiner are underway. A group of federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Carolina Division of Water Resources, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, are working with the owner to remove Hoosier Dam and a remnant rock dam, located within the impoundment on the Rocky River in Chatham County. The project will allow the free flowing of waters between two designated critical habitat reaches for the Cape Fear shiner on the Rocky River in the Cape Fear River Basin. Experts are also considering the potential removal of other dams in the area, as well as possible captive propagation to restore the shiner in key areas of the watershed to boost population numbers in the wild.

2013 - 2014

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the Service translocated about 400 shiners into the upper Rocky River, where numbers of the species had been very low. Monitoring of these translocations demonstrated that the shiners were doing well and likely spawning.

Two captive reared fishes with a black line along their side.
Two of the Cape Fear Shiners relocated from the Deep River to the Rocky River upstream from Hoosier Dam. Photo by B. Jones, NC Wildlife Resources Commission.


The Chatham Conservation Partnership (CCP) was established, bringing together more than 30 state, federal, and local government organizations, non-profits, universities, and private landowners to plan and implement natural resources conservation in Chatham County. The Service provides information about the Cape Fear Shiner’s needs, which have been used for technical assistance as new projects come along, such as the development phase of Chatham Park.

2000 - 2006

The Service funded the US Geological Survey and North Carolina State University to evaluate pollutant sensitivity of Cape Fear shiners and evaluate their habitat.


Carborton Dam was removed and Cape Fear shiner habitat in the Deep River restored. (insert photo: News Clip 1) Nineteen miles of the Deep River opened up to fisheries that were divided in 1921, when the dam was built.

Before and after photo of a dam that was removed.
Carbonton dam before and after removal.


The Service awarded a grant to Conservation Fisheries Inc. to produce several thousand fry from 30 adult Cape Fear shiners – the first effort to captively propagate the species.


The Service determined the Cape Fear shiner to be an endangered species and designated its critical habitat. See determination.

Recovery plan

Download the recovery plan.

Subject matter expert

Sarah McRae, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 919-856-4520 ext. 16

Designated critical habitat

Critical habitat is defined under the Endangered Species Act as the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species which have physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species and that may require special management considerations or protection, or specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species but for which those areas are essential for the conservation of the species.

  • Chatham County, NC. Approximately 4.1 miles of the Rocky River from North Carolina State Highway 902 Bridge downstream to Chatham County Road 1010 Bridge;
  • Chatham and Lee Counties, NC. Approximately 0.5 river mile of Bear Creek, from Chatham County Road 2156 Bridge downstream to the Rocky River, then downstream in the Rocky River (approximately 4.2 river miles) to the Deep River, then downstream in the Deep River (approximately 2.6 river miles) to a point 0.3 river mile below the Moncure, North Carolina, U.S. Geological Survey Gaging Station; and,
  • Randolph and Moore Counties, NC. Approximately 1.5 miles of Fork Creek, from a point 0.1 river mile upstream of Randolph County Road 2873 Bridge downstream to the Deep River then downstream approximately 4.1 river miles of the Deep River in Randolph and Moore Counties, North Carolina, to a point 2.5 river miles below Moore County Road 1456 Bridge.
Critical habitat stretches along the Rocky and Deep rivers.
Critical habitat for the Cape Fear shiner. Map by Doug Newcomb, USFWS.

What you can do to help

  • Support measures related to keeping our streams clean, such as land-use planning that maintains naturally forested river shore buffers and high water quality.
  • Maintain native forests along streams and creeks. These forested buffers prevent the erosion of soil and sediments into the water after heavy rains, keeping the stream clear and clean.
  • Do not dispose of toxic substances such as motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals near creeks and streams. Always follow the instructions for chemical use, and properly dispose of any remaining material and the container.
  • Keep livestock out of rivers and streams. Livestock can damage the stream banks by eating the bank vegetation and causing erosion of the bank. Livestock and their waste can also pollute the water.
  • Watch for fish kills, illegal dumping of waste, unusual water color or smell, and other changes in the river’s condition. Report environmental emergencies (e.g., fish kills, oil or chemical spills) affecting water resources to the N.C. Division of Emergency Management at 1-800-858-0368.

Federal register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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