Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes
2002 Report of Region 3 - North-Central
Status surveys and other interesting finds
Bill McLarney reported an interesting find as a result of surveys in the Little Tennessee River system upstream of Fontana Reservoir. He noted that surveys conducted during September-November of 2000 and 2001 have shown a hitherto unsuspected migration of the threatened spotfin chub, Erimonax (=Cyprinella) monachus up tributaries of the Little Tennessee River in Swain and Macon Counties, North Carolina. The conventional wisdom has been that this species is almost exclusively a mainstem inhabitant. A very few individuals, mostly juveniles, have been found in three tributary streams during the spring and summer: Over a period of 12 years (1990-2001), 32 summer IBI samples in the lower reaches of 18 tributaries to the reach of the Little Tennessee known to harbor this species have turned it up on just one occasion. However it has recently been shown that in the fall, spotfin chubs may penetrate tributary streams to a distance of three miles or more upstream of their mouths. Occasionally they are found in surprising numbers; a single seine haul in a pool in Brush Creek in October 2000 turned up an estimated 300 individuals. More usually they are found in modest numbers. So far, all six Little Tennessee tributaries downstream of Porters Bend Dam at Franklin, NC (the upper limit of spotfin chub range in the river) with watershed areas of more than four square miles have been sampled in the fall; all contained spotfin chubs. In addition, six of eight tributaries with watershed areas of two to four square miles have been searched, with small numbers of spotfin chubs reported from three streams.
In every case, including those streams where spotfin chubs were not found and one still smaller tributary, large numbers of the whitetail shiner (Cyprinella galactura) were taken. While it is not unusual to take individual whitetail shiners in small tributaries during the summer, it is also considered to be a "river fish", and is never taken in large numbers from small tributaries. In one instance, numbers of both species were such (at a distance of over two miles above the river), that both species could be taken from shallow runs with every pass of a dip net. These findings illustrate a significant and unstudied biotic interchange between mainstem and tributaries.
Three each of the larger and smaller tributaries join the Tennessee on the 4,600 acre Needmore Tract, owned by Crescent Resources. Both the Macon and Swain County Commissions, along with many conservation organizations, have supported the acquisition of the Needmore Tract as a conservation priority. The focus has been on the Little Tennessee River, but these findings suggest the importance of fully protecting tributary watersheds on the Needmore Tract as well as the river corridor.
The lake sturgeon restoration project is continuing in the French Broad River downstream of Douglas Dam. Cooperators include the Southeast Aquatic Research Center (SARI), TVA, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Tennessee Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit. Rick Bivens (TWRA) and Ed Scott (TVA) reported four lake sturgeon recovered by boat electrofishing & net surveys in tail-water surveys summer 2001.
Charlie Saylor reported that TVA completed IBI fish surveys at 194 sites during 2001, but he had no range-extensions or other items of interest to report. TVA will continue to do IBI surveys at 180-200 sites in 2002. Charlie did comment that, in comparison with the results of IBI surveys five years ago, the results of the 2001 surveys there were more sites that had improved than got worse. Their theory is the improvements are likely due to the low rainfall (and therefore, less non-point-source runoff) we've had in the Valley the past few years.
Chris Skelton (GA Natural Heritage Program) reported that he and Rex Strange (SE Missouri State Univ.) have received monies from Region 5 FWS to survey for blackside dace (Phoxinus cumberlandensis) in the Powell River system in VA, where Chris had recently discovered a population in Cox Creek. In addition to surveying for additional populations, they will also be comparing genetic make-up of the known Powell population with upper Cumberland populations in an attempt to determine if those occurring in the Powell are the result of bait bucket introduction, or natural exchange. They will begin surveys in spring 2002.
Rick Bivens (TWRA) reported several state records. They collected five specimens of what he thinks may be mountain redbelly dace (Phoxinus oreas) from Laurel Creek in Johnson Co, TN in September 2001. Laurel Creek is a tributary of the South Fork Holston River near Damascus VA. Their survey site was located approximately 0.8 miles upstream of the TN/VA state line. These fish were not present at the same location in 1993 (when they used the 3-pass depletion survey, same as in 2001). Rick sent photos to Bob Jenkins and Wayne Starnes, and both agreed that they were P. oreas. So, although the species is known from the watershed in VA (see Jenkins' and Burkhead's book) this tentatively, represents a new record for TN. Another state record was the first recorded white catfish (Ameiurus catus) from Tennessee collected in the Pigeon River at Hartford, Cocke County, 21 June 2000. It is catalogued as UT 48.1014.
Rick also reported collecting three blue suckers (Cycleptus elongatus) from two localities on the Nolichucky River (river miles 30.9 and 39.1) in the summer of 2001. One fish measured 698 mm TL and all were released.
Jim Herrig (U.S. Forest Service) reported using a habitat model to predict the occurrence of Tennessee dace (Phoxinus tennesseensis) in eight previously unsurveyed National Forest streams. Their crews found populations of Tennessee dace in four of the eight streams, and an additional population in a stream that had not met the model criteria. This single season of directed effort increased the known populations on the Cherokee National Forest from 20 to 25. He suspects there may be several others in the vicinity, but off National Forest lands. In 1990 he used the same criteria on the Daniel Boone NF to search for streams with blackside dace (Phoxinus cumberlandensis). Then, they found four (three in a single day!) previously unknown populations in 12 streams predicted by the model. The model seems to work pretty well for Phoxinus. He is working on refining it for as many of the 120 species of fish documented on the Forest. All of the parameters used in the model are derived from maps. He says field measurements would surely increase the predictability of the model, but if you're in the field anyway, why not just survey for the fish?
Jeff Powell (USGS) reported that the U.S. Geological Survey sampled 25 streams across the lower Tennessee Valley in 2001, and 32 streams in 2000, as part of the Lower Tennessee River NAWQA project. Streams were of similar size (30-60 square miles) and were concentrated primarily in the Eastern (EHR) and Western Highland Rim (WHR) ecoregions (level 4). Fish, invertebrate, and algae collections were made, along with extensive instream, land use, and water chemistry assessments. Results from these efforts are being used to evaluate biotic community response to land use (primarily agriculture) at the ecoregion scale, thus providing policy makers with a predictive tool that is scientifically based.
Listed below are a few of the highlights of these two years worth of surveys. Streams in the WHR, which are less impacted by agriculture, averaged more than 30 species per site, while streams in the EHR averaged 21 species. Chisholm Creek (tributary to Shoal Creek in Wayne Co., TN) had the highest diversity (43 species), including 12 darter species.
The federally threatened slackwater darter (Etheostoma boschungi) was collected in Limestone Creek (Madison Co., AL) in 2000 (possibly new record). Blotchside logperch (Percina burtoni) were frequently collected throughout the WHR (seven sites). Flame chubs (Hemitrema flammea) and blotched chubs (Erimystax insignis) were also frequently collected, along with a single spring cavefish (Chologaster agassizi) collected in Beans Creek (Franklin Co., TN).
A number of crayfish collections were also made in support of Jen Buhay's (University of Alabama) dissertation work on crayfish genetics in the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.
As reported last year, improvements in the water quality of the Pigeon River (French Broad watershed, Sevier Co., TN), prompted Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) biologists (and many other cooperators) to begin a long-term project to restore native fishes to the Pigeon River. To start the project, the group came up with a list of relatively common fishes that could be collected in large numbers elsewhere in the French Broad system.
Jonathan Burr (TDEC) and John Taylor and Joyce Coombs (UT) reported that, this project has resulted in the release of 347 gilt darters (Percina evides), 243 bluebreast darters (Etheostoma camurum), and 139 blueside darters (E. jessiae), to date. All fish have been tagged by injection of small amounts of fluorescent elastomer dye in the dorsal area. Once tagged the fish are transported to the Pigeon, acclimated, and released. UT graduate students will attempt to track the survival and movement of the released fish over the course of the next two years. Electroshocking and snorkeling surveys in late summer of 2001 documented survival and apparent health of gilt darters tagged and released in May and June of that year. In 2002, they hope to add to the numbers of stocked and tagged fishes of the species listed above, so that overall totals are in the 500-1000 range, depending on species. Then, they will begin looking for successful reproduction in the reintroduced populations. Also, they hope to begin moving at least two additional species this year: mountain madtom (Noturus eleutherus) and stargazing minnow (Phenacobius uranops). Longer-term goals include possibly propagating some of the more rare species that can't be collected in large enough numbers for reintroduction.
Once again, Pat Rakes and J.R. Shute (Conservation Fisheries, Inc, CFI) surveyed many places, and spent many hours of unsuccessful observations (both nets and snorkeling) looking for slender chubs (Erimystax cahni) in the Clinch and Powell rivers. However, they did document new localities for yellowfin madtoms (Noturus flavipinnis) in the Powell River: several miles downstream of Buchanan Ford at first bridge crossing; several miles above Buchanan Ford at the mouth of Mulberry Creek. Also, Jess Jones (Virginia Division of Game & Inland Fish) and Steve Fraley (TVA) also reported yellowfin madtoms for the first time in Virginia's portion of the Powell River as they saw three individuals during snorkel surveys for mussels at Fletcher Ford. Pat and J.R. noted excellent yellowfin madtom habitat at Fletcher Ford, and plan to return there in summer 2002.
Pat Rakes reported that CFI's 2001 observations indicate that all three of the federally listed fishes appear to be doing very well in Citico Creek. Record numbers of smoky and yellowfin madtoms (N. baileyi and N. flavipinnis) were observed this year. The entire range of the yellowfin madtom in Citico Creek (a little over three stream miles) was surveyed on two nights only a few days after 9/11/01. The observation of 93 individuals (including 10 young-of-year) on those two dates was one of the best things we could have done at that time! Water conditions were perfect, low, warm, and clear. Eleven adults were collected for morphometric and meristic data for taxonomic work by Nick Lang (a student of Rick Mayden's at the University of St. Louis). Lang has also been provided with tissue samples from Copper Creek and Powell River yellowfin madtom populations.
Other CFI observations as a result of the Clinch and Powell surveys include the observation of blotchside logperch (Percina burtoni) in the Clinch River at Horton Ford (Hancock Co., TN). This locality is several miles downstream of the TN/VA state line. Although the record isn't too surprising, it represents a new locality for the species. They also saw several P. burtoni while snorkeling in the Clinch River about one stream mile downstream of Speers Ferry. Etnier also reported a snorkel observation from Bob Butler (FWS) of P. burtoni in the Big South Fork.
Another interesting find resulted in the collection of egg clusters of unknown species while snorkeling Frost Ford on the Clinch River, on May 3, 2001. The eggs-100-200-were large (~2.5-3 mm diameter), and stuck together in a cluster. They brought the cluster to CFI to rear. On 6 June a similar cluster was found in Citico Creek. This one was located beneath a palm-sized rock, in an open crevice on downstream side of the rock. These were also brought to CFI for rearing. They both turned out to be sawfin shiners. Apparently, they, like Cahaba shiners, are egg clusters (no parental care).
Pat Rakes (CFI) reported that he surveyed appropriate habitats for Barrens topminnows (Fundulus julisia) throughout Duck River portion of the species' range with no success. Tyler Sykes reported conservation efforts for this species (see below).
Tyler Sykes, of the Cookeville office of FWS, reported that a new survey for the federally threatened blackside dace (Phoxinus cumberlandensis) will begin in summer 2002. Dr. Hayden Mattingly, a new professor at Tennessee Technological University, and his graduate student(s) will be assessing the present distribution and status of the species, seasonal movements, and potential impacts of land uses on populations within this range. Findings should help the Service direct recovery efforts, and better assess the potential impacts of proposed projects within the range of the species.
Rakes also reported a CFI survey of the Buffalo River for spotfin chubs. They floated the river from the first stream crossing upstream of Nachez Parkway (BRM 105) downstream to about BRM 100. Spotfin chubs (Erimonax monachus) were again found in the Buffalo River at the mouth of Grinders Creek, where spotfin chubs have been reported previously by many collectors. They were also found at a site several miles upstream of this locality, at the Nachez Trace parkway bridge, and then at about BRM 102. This is an upstream range extension for the species in the Buffalo River. These will be used for propagating individuals to eventually stock into Shoal Creek. Rakes noted that much bedrock was observed at this site, and that it looks similar to areas CFI surveyed in Shoal Creek where the fish is proposed for reintroduction.
Tyler also reported that the FWS is continuing work conducted by Jeff Simmons, a graduate student from the Tennessee Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit, to look at the structure and stability of all known occurrences of the bluemask darter [Etheostoma (Doration) sp.]. To date, he has collected and measured over 1,000 individuals, and indicates that habitat in the Collins River is good and bluemask darter populations appear to be thriving. In 2002, he will concentrate his efforts in the Calfkiller and Rocky rivers, and Cane Creek. He will determine status, movements, and habitat preferences there.
Etnier reported that Mike Doosey finished his Master's project on the fishes of the Little Pigeon River. Deuce is back in NJ working several days a week at AMNH (for free, but he has to pay for his travel).
Etnier also reported that the UT fish collection and Etnier's office has moved to White Ave Annex, at the junction of White Ave (1 block n of Cumberland) and James Agee St., across from the U.T. Law School. Ets will bring corrections/additions copies (free) that were incorporated in the 2nd printing, Fishes of TN, 10pp. for those of you who have the first printing.
Captive propagation, reintroduction, and other management activities
Pat Rakes and J.R. Shute (CFI) reported results of the Abrams Creek project in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (Blount County, TN). As reported previously, duskytail darters (Etheostoma percnurum) are spawning in Abrams Creek, although 2001 survey efforts were planned to ensure little interference with nesting fishes. However, one survey in the spawning season (May 4) resulted in the find of a nest. Ten young-of-year duskytail darters are also indicative of ongoing reproductive success for this reintroduced population. These young were seen in two or three areas that haven't been stocked since 1993. Either they were established from them, or are dispersing from upstream. Good news either way. This year's observation resulted in 47 duskytail darters in 27 hrs. effort, for a new high fish/observation index of 1.74.
Only three smoky madtoms (Noturus baileyi) were observed in Abrams Creek in summer 2001, but smoky madtom observations were less likely during the 2001 field season because most individuals are seen during spawning season surveys. Eight yellowfin madtoms (N. flavipinnis) were observed during 2001 field surveys in Abrams Creek. Two of these were wild-spawned, young-of-year individuals; one fish observed was a one-plus year-old with no tag. All 2000 year-class fish stocked in spring 2001 were tagged. Four of these yellowfin madtoms were found in sites that have never been stocked, indicating the species is dispersing, at least one or two pools downstream of stocked sites within the creek. The yellowfin madtom fish/observation effort index for 2001 surveys in Abrams Creek, 0.3, is good. Several hundred tagged spotfin chubs (Erimonax monachus) were stocked in Abrams Creek in July 2001, but no observations of this species were made in 2001 surveys. CFI plans to place more emphasis on Abrams Creek monitoring in the 2002 field season. The National Park Service is hoping to get a graduate student to help do this work.
Rakes and Shute also reported that they collected yellowfin madtom nests from Copper Creek. Individuals reared from these nests will be used for managing that population and to maintain captive pop. During the 2001 surveys to collect these nests, they observed 16 yellowfin madtoms at one site in Copper Creek. They also reported collecting slackwater darters (Etheostoma boschungi) for propagation research. They found the darters easily in the North Fork Buffalo River at Gum Springs Branch, Lawrence Co., TN, and collected eight (October 2001). On the same day, they also collected 12 individuals in Little Shoal Creek at a racetrack (Dooley Rd.), where there was almost no water. Since January 2002, the males have been highly colored in CFI aquaria.
Tyler Sykes (FWS) reported that conservation efforts are proceeding nicely for the extremely rare Barrens topminnow (Fundulus julisia). In summer 2001, topminnows (captively propagated by CFI) were released into six restored spring sites within the historic range of the species. These fish were all marked with Elastomer tags for a long-term study that was initiated in summer 2001. A graduate student at Tennessee Technological University will use these tags to help monitor the success of the releases. These efforts are garnering attention from local and state media outlets. Newspaper articles were generated from the releases and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's television show "Tennessee Wild Side" will be airing a segment on the topminnow in spring 2002. The Barrens topminnow Working Group continues to meet on an annual basis to discuss progress to date and future plans.
Tyler also reported the publication of a proposal to designate nonessential experimental population (NEP) status under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, and to reintroduce two endangered fishes-the duskytail darter (Etheostoma percnurum) and smoky madtom (Noturus baileyi)-and two threatened fishes-the yellowfin madtom (Noturus flavipinnis) and spotfin chub (Erimonax monachus)-into the Tellico River between the backwaters of the Tellico Reservoir (approximately Tellico River mile (TRM) 19 and TRM 33, near the Tellico Ranger Station, in Monroe County, TN. It is anticipated that this rule will be finalized some time in 2002. As a result, personnel with CFI will step up propagation efforts for all four fish to provide adequate numbers for reintroductions to the Tellico River. They will also subsequently monitor these reintroduction efforts for success.
Peggy W. Shute and David A. Etnier