National Park Service

Appalachian Highlands Network (APHN)

Rare Fish Monitoring

Spotfin chub (foreground), in breeding colors, guarding a 'nursery rock' where eggs have been deposited [photo by Brian Watson]
Spotfin chub (foreground), in breeding colors, guarding a "nursery rock" where eggs have been deposited [photo by Brian Watson]

Resource Brief: Rare Fish Monitoring in APHN

There are currently no other documents or reports pertaining to this topic.

The monitoring protocol and procedures for this topic are currently under development.

For more information contact: Jim Hughes

Affected Parks

  • Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (BISO)
  • Obed Wild & Scenic River (OBRI)

Importance / Issues

The tuxedo darter (Etheostoma lemniscatum), is a Federally Endangered species, which occurs entirely within the Big South Fork NRRA. The tuxedo darter population is one of four populations of the previously named duskytail darter (Etheostoma percnurum) described in the USFWS Recovery Plan.

These populations are all geographically isolated and relatively restricted in size, and all except the tuxedo darter are located in the Tennessee River drainage. National Park Service-contracted surveys of suitable habitat within the park have expanded the known range of the tuxedo darter to a dozen shoals along some of the most pristine sections of the Big South Fork.

The spotfin chub (Erimonax monachus), a Federally Threatened species, is restricted to clear upland streams in the Tennessee River drainage. In recent decades, it has disappeared from much of its former range, and some of its best remaining habitat occurs in the Obed-Emory River watershed.

Monitoring Objectives

Specific objectives are to:

  1. Determine long-term trends in the abundance of tuxedo darter populations at selected index sites at BISO.
  2. Determine long-term trends in the abundance of spotfin chub populations at selected index sites at OBRI.
  3. Correlate changes in physical and chemical habitat measures with changes in the distribution and abundance of these fish.

Management Applications

Severe water quality problems exist at BISO. The Big South Fork system has been, and continues to be, heavily impacted by coal mining activities due mainly to acid mine drainage and siltation, particularly in the New River watershed. Some headwater streams in these drainages are completely devoid of life; others are habitat for only the most pollution-tolerant organisms. The Big South Fork and its major tributaries are impacted by forestry practices, municipal and domestic waste, agricultural runoff, and oil and gas operations, as well as by water withdrawal.

The water resources of the Obed River drainage have historically been impacted by pollution associated with agriculture, forestry, and coal mining. In recent years, urban development in the upper reaches of the system has created greater pressures on water quality and quantity in the park, which could directly impact the Obed River and its two largest tributaries - Clear Creek and Daddy's Creek.

The northern Cumberland Plateau, where BISO and OBRI are situated, produces more coal and oil than any other region in Tennessee, much of it coming from the parks' watersheds. Mining can cause contaminated mine drainage, sedimentation (from road construction), introduction of coal fines into aquatic systems, and pollution from brine and other contaminants employed during mineral extraction operations.

Because of the significance of the tuxedo darter and spotfin chub populations protected by the parks, and the multitude of potential threats upstream, long-term trend data are needed to monitor changes in these populations. Tracking rare fish population trends through time, in combination with long-term water quality/quantity monitoring, aquatic macroinvertebrate monitoring, and freshwater mussel monitoring, will provide park managers with the level of information they need to determine whether changes in management are warranted.

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Last Updated: October 05, 2017 Contact Webmaster