Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

W.Va. fish lands on Endangered Species List

The diamond darter (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
The diamond darter (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service comes news that a tiny fish currently found only in West Virginia’s Elk River is being added to the federal Endangered Species List.

Here’s the news release:

The diamond darter, a tiny fish that has faced serious threats to its habitat, will now be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced. The diamond darter’s protected status will take effect in 30 days.

The native diamond darter could once be found along the southern Appalachians from Ohio to Tennessee. Years of changes from dams, water quality degradation and other threats have restricted this small member of the perch family to one stream in West Virginia’s Elk River, where fewer than 125 diamond darters have been collected during the last 30 years.

Darters play an important role in waterway systems as indicators of good water quality and diversity. The presence of healthy darter population indicates that a river is healthy and would sustain other populations of fish, such as musky or bass. To determine if the diamond darter requires ESA protection, the Service evaluated five factors, including effects to the species’ habitat or range, overuse of the species, disease or predation, inadequate regulatory protection and other natural or manmade factors. Out of all factors, the darter is most threatened by the destruction, change or limitation of its habitat.

In July 2012, after extensive evaluation, the Service proposed that the diamond darter be protected as endangered under the ESA and requested comments on the proposed rule. The Service received and fully considered 24 letters from peer reviewers, state and federal agencies and the public. The subject of comments ranged from water quality degradation and coal mining activities to historical survey methods and macroinvertebrate studies. See the final rule for more information on comments and the Service’s responses.

In July 2012, the Service also identified a total of 123 river miles in West Virginia and Kentucky as habitat critical for the darter’s conservation. The proposed critical habitat includes areas in Kanawha and Clay counties, West Virginia, and in Edmonson, Hart and Green counties, Kentucky. The Service will finalize this and address comments specific to the proposed critical habitat in a separate rule.