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Sickle Darter Listed as Threatened Under Endangered Species Act

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is listing the sickle darter as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With this listing, the Service will also implement a 4(d) rule that will tailor take prohibitions for the conservation of the species.

A review of the best available science has shown that habitat loss and water quality degradation from a variety of sources have led to the species’ decline. The small, slender-bodied fish native to the upper Tennessee River, is also disappearing from historically known locations as its range is being reduced.

“The sickle darter is a species unique to this part of the world,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, Regional Director for the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Regions. “Listing the fish under the Endangered Species Act will help support conservation efforts to return the species to its historic range and promote its eventual recovery.”

Prior to 2005, the sickle darter was known to be found in nine tributary systems of the upper Tennessee River drainage in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. These rivers include the Emory, Clinch, Powell, Little, French Broad, North Fork Holston, Middle Fork Holston, South Fork Holston and Watauga rivers. As the species declined, its range contracted to only include six of these rivers. These six populations now occupy portions of the Emory River system (Tennessee), the Upper Clinch River system (Virginia), the Little River system (Tennessee), the North Fork Holston River system (Virginia), the Middle Fork Holston River system (Virginia), and the Sequatchie River system (Tennessee).

Conservation Fisheries, Inc. (CFI) initiated propagation efforts for the sickle darter in 2015. Personnel from CFI collected adult male and female fish from the Little River in Tennessee and were able to produce 25 juvenile sickle darters from those efforts. The juvenile fish were released in 2017. This propagation effort provided valuable information on the species’ reproduction and early life history and showed that there is potential for hatchery rearing and population restoration as a conservation tool in the future.

For threatened species, the Service uses the flexibility provided under section 4(d) of the ESA to tailor the take prohibitions to those necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species. This targeted approach helps reduce regulatory burdens by exempting certain activities that do not significantly harm the species, or that are beneficial, while focusing conservation efforts on the threats detrimental to recovery. Additional information about provisions of the 4(d) rule are included in our Frequently Asked Questions.

At this time, the Service is only listing the species and implementing a 4(d) rule. The Service is in the process of determining critical habitat and a proposed critical habitat rule will follow publication of this final listing rule.

The rule finalizing the listing and 4(d) rule for the sickle darter will become final on 12/08/2022. The rule, supporting documents and comments and materials received on the proposed rule are available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2020–0094.

For further information contact: Daniel Elbert, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tennessee Ecological Services Field Office, 446 Neal Street, Cookeville, TN 38501; telephone 913–528–6481. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339.

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