Diamond Darter Gets Protection
WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has
finalized the listing of the diamond darter, one of the most imperiled
fish in the southeastern U.S., as endangered under the Endangered
Species Act, according to a new regulation.
Already listed by the Southeastern Fishes Council as one of the
southeast's 12 most imperiled fishes, or "desperate dozen," the 3
inch long diamond darter is now found in only one segment of the
lower Elk River in West Virginia.
"Despite...extensive and targeted survey efforts within the
species' known range and preferred habitat in the Elk River, fewer
than 50 individuals have been collected over the last 30 years," the
2012 listing proposal said. The historic range of these tiny perch
family members included the Muskingum River in Ohio, the Ohio River
in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, the Green River in Kentucky and the
Cumberland River Drainage in Kentucky and Tennessee.
The species was "rediscovered" in the Elk River in 1980 during a
survey, when one individual was collected. It was believed to be
"extirpated," or extinct throughout its range before the rediscovery,
the proposed rule said.
The USFWS's action to protect the fish was "spurred by a
landmark agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed
protection decisions for 757 species," according to the CBD's press
release in response to the final rule.
"The Center and a coalition of 16 other conservation groups
submitted comments in support of the fish's protection. More than
4,800 Center supporters submitted comments to the Service in favor
of protecting the darter," while "the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas
Association, West Virginia Coal Association, West Virginia Forestry
Association and West Virginia Chamber of Commerce all submitted
comments opposing the fish's protection," the CBD said.
The darter lacks a swim bladder, which helps it remain near the
bottom of its warm freshwater river and stream habitats.
Researchers believe the fish bury themselves under the sand then
dart out at prey. Embryos develop in the tiny spaces within the coarse
sand or gravel bottom. Darters are found in riffles and pools where
swift currents sweep the stream beds clean and keep them free from
The darters' small population size and limited range add to
threats such as siltation, sedimentation and pollution from coal
mining, oil and gas development, timber harvesting, all-terrain
vehicle use, sewage treatment, damming, and erosion. In addition,
the species faces potential threats from climate change, global
warming and invasive species such as Japanese knotweed and
Didymosphenia geminate, an alga known as "rock snot," which grows
in suffocating mats that can be eight inches thick covering the entire
stream bed for over a half mile, according to the final rule.
"Darters play an important role in waterway systems as indicators
of good water quality and diversity. The presence of a healthy darter
population indicates that a river is healthy and would sustain other
populations of fish, such as musky or bass," the USFWS noted in its
The USFWS is preparing a recovery plan for the fish, and will finalize
the proposed 123 river miles of critical habitat designation in a
separate rule, the agency says. The darter's protected endangered
status is effective Aug. 26.