Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 15, 2015

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Lawsuit Filed to Save Four Southeast Fish From Extinction

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect four fish species from the southeastern United States under the Endangered Species Act. The Center petitioned to protect the fish in 2010, but five years later the Service still has not issued the legally required decision on their protection. The candy darter, ashy darter, longhead darter and frecklebelly madtom are at high risk of extinction due primarily to water pollution and dams. The four fish are found in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Ashy darter
Ashy darter photo by Noel Burkhead, USGS. Photos are available for media use.

“Human wellbeing is directly tied to the health of our waterways, so it’s scary that we’re losing freshwater animals to extinction at a thousand times the natural rate,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “These fish have been in trouble for a long time, and they need the help that only the Endangered Species Act can provide. Protecting the rivers where they live will also help protect the water quality that people need to survive.”

The frecklebelly madtom is found in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Kentucky is home to the ashy darter and longhead darter. Tennessee is home to the ashy and longhead darters, as well as the frecklebelly madtom. Virginia is home to the ashy darter and candy darter. West Virginia is home to the longhead darter and candy darter.

The Southeast is a global hotspot of both biodiversity and extinction. The region boasts more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but has already seen more than 50 freshwater animals go extinct in recent years.

“People often don’t think about the little species that live in streams and rivers, but there’s a whole fascinating world just under the surface," said Curry. “The Obama administration and Congress need to boost funding for endangered freshwater species in the Southeast to keep the region’s irreplaceable natural heritage from being lost forever.”

Species Background

The ashy darter was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1994, and it has now lost more than half its range. It lives in the Cumberland, Tennessee and Duck river watersheds in Tennessee and Kentucky and is at high risk of extinction due to dams and pollution from agriculture and urbanization. It has already been lost from Alabama and Georgia. The fish was thought to have been extirpated in Virginia, but a population was recently rediscovered in the state. Its separate populations are genetically distinct from each other and can be distinguished by different color patterns. The ashy darter is an ancient fish and is considered to be a primitive member of its scientific genus. It is 5 inches long and eats mayflies and midges.

The candy darter, also known as the finescale saddled darter, was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1982. It has a small range in the Kanawha and New rivers in Virginia and West Virginia. It is threatened by pollution, stocked trout and introduced darters. A population is found in the Monongahela National Forest. The candy darter is very brightly colored and is 3 inches long.

The longhead darter was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1982. It was once found from New York and Pennsylvania south to Tennessee, but it has been wiped out from much of its former range and is now only spottily distributed in the Ohio and Tennessee river watersheds. It is threatened by pollution from mountaintop-removal coal mining, agriculture, livestock and urbanization, as well as by population isolation caused by dams. The longhead darter is 5 inches long, with a slender body; dark stripes; and a long, pointed head and snout.  

The frecklebelly madtom is a small catfish that was first identified as needing federal protection in 1982. It lives in the Pearl River in Louisiana and Mississippi, the Tombigbee River in Mississippi and Alabama, the Cahaba and Alabama rivers in Alabama, the Etowah River in Georgia, and the Conasauga River in Georgia and Tennessee. It is threatened by dams; gravel mining; and pollution from logging, agriculture and development.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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