Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 27, 2018

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

Trispot Darter Fish Gains Endangered Species Act Protection in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee

181 River Miles Proposed as Critical Habitat for Endangered Fish

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— In response to a petition and litigation from conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized protection for the trispot darter fish under the Endangered Species Act. More than 180 miles of river were also proposed for protection as critical habitat for this fish.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Alabama Rivers Alliance and allies petitioned for trispot darter protection in 2010.

“Protecting the trispot darter under the Endangered Species Act will safeguard this colorful little fish for future generations and help protect water quality for nearby communities,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center.

The trispot darter has been lost from 80 percent of its range. It was thought to be extinct in Alabama for more than 50 years until it was found in Little Canoe Creek in 2008.

The fish is found in the Coosa River watershed in northern Alabama, northern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee. It also survives in the Conasauga River watershed, above the confluence with the Coosawattee River in Georgia and Tennessee.

The trispot darter is unique from other darters because it acts like a tiny salmon, migrating upstream annually from the larger river habitat where it spends most of its life to small tributaries and seeps to spawn. Culverts, dams and other modifications can block its passage.

The trispot darter is threatened by urban sprawl, since stormwater runoff from development degrades the water quality it needs to survive. It is also threatened by runoff from logging and agriculture, and by dams and drought. The fish’s habitat becomes unsuitable when silt and sediment fills in the spaces between rocks, burying the spaces they need for shelter and egg-laying.

Of the four waterways where it survives — Little Canoe Creek Basin, Ballplay Creek Basin, Conasauga River Basin and Coosawattee River Basin — only the Little Canoe Creek is considered to be moderately healthy. The other three populations are in poor condition.

The proposed critical habitat is in Big Canoe, Ballplay, Mill and Coahulla creeks, and in the Conasauga and Coosawattae rivers in Etowah, Cherokee, Calhoun, St. Clair, Whitfield, Murray, Polk, Bradley and Murray counties. Critical habitat designation requires managers of any federal project to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure the darter’s habitat is not harmed.   

The trispot darter was first identified as needing federal protection in 1982. The Center sued the Service in 2015 to get a legally binding date for a decision on its protection.

The trispot darter grows to about 1.5 inches long and eats midge-fly larvae. It is eaten, in turn, by black bass and other large fish prized by anglers.

Freshwater species are being lost to extinction at 1,000 times the natural background extinction rate because of dams, pollution, climate change and the ever-increasing use of water to meet the demands of human population growth.

The Southeast is home to more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the country, but the region has recently lost more than 50 freshwater animals to extinction.

Trispot darter

Trispot darter photo by Bernard Kuhajda. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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