Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 6, 2016

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

Two Appalachian Crayfishes Protected Under
Endangered Species Act in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected two species of crayfish from Appalachia under the Endangered Species Act. The crayfishes have been lost from more than half of their ranges because of water pollution, primarily from coal mining. The Big Sandy crayfish is known only from the Big Sandy River basin in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia; the Guyandotte River crayfish is known only from the Guyandotte River basin in southern West Virginia.

Big Sandy crayfish
Big Sandy crayfish photo by Guenter Schuster. This photo is available for media use.

“Protecting these two crayfishes under the Endangered Species Act will not only ensure their survival but will also protect streams and water quality that are important for people,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center and a native of southeastern Kentucky.

The Center and regional allies petitioned to protect the Big Sandy crayfish as an endangered species in 2010. The Guyandotte River crayfish, which was recently discovered to be a separate species from the Big Sandy crayfish, is now one of the most endangered crayfish in America, surviving only in a single county in West Virginia. Both crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution. The Big Sandy crayfish was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1991.

The Big Sandy crayfish is known from Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties in Virginia, and from McDowell and Mingo counties in West Virginia. In Kentucky it is known from Floyd, Johnson, Lawrence, Pike and Martin counties. The Guyandotte River crayfish was known from Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties in West Virginia, but survives only in Wyoming County. The crayfish are threatened by construction of the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway, in addition to coal mining.

Today’s listing means that federal agencies will have to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before funding or permitting any activity that could harm the animals, and it is now illegal for any person or corporation to harm the crayfishes or their habitat.

Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. They’re considered a keystone animal because the holes they dig create habitat used by many other species, including fish. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals and are eaten, in turn, by fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web. Because the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution, they are indicator species of water quality.

In 2011 the Center for Biological Diversity entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country. To date 146 species have gained protection under the agreement and another 34 have been proposed for protection.

One of the primary threats to the crayfish is mountaintop-removal coal mining. Recent scientific studies have concluded that pollution from mountaintop removal is harmful to fish, crayfish, mussels, amphibians and stream insects in Appalachia. Pollution from mountaintop removal is also associated with increased risk of cancer and birth defects in humans. More than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been degraded by this mechanized form of mining, which employs far fewer people than other forms and perpetuates poverty by causing permanent and irreversible damage to the landscape.

Coal-field residents and allies are currently promoting the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, a federal bill that would place a moratorium on new mountaintop-removal permits until the federal government has completed and evaluated studies into health disparities in the region.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back