Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes

Alabama Home To Half Of The Southeast's 12 Most Endangered Fish
November 13, 2008

Release from:
Katherine Bouma
Birmingham News (Alabama)

Alabama is home to nearly half of the Southeast's 12 most critically endangered fish, named the Desperate Dozen, according to a report to be presented today to the Southeastern Fishes Council.

The Southeast has the nation's greatest freshwater diversity, and Alabama has the most fish species. So Alabama also has the most fish that are close to extinction, said Bernie Kuhajda, a University of Alabama researcher and chairman of the Southeastern Fishes Council.

"It's not that we've done a worse job taking care of our environment than any other state," Kuhajda said. "It's just that we've got more of the critters here."

Experts selected the Southeast's Desperate Dozen based on the severity of threats to them, their abundance and the size of their range remaining.

Five of the fish - the Alabama cavefish, the Alabama sturgeon, the pygmy sculpin, the spring pygmy sunfish and the vermilion darter - live in Alabama. A sixth, a tiny catfish called the chucky madtom, now survives only in Tennessee, after it was extinguished from Alabama decades ago.

Reports on each of the fish will be presented today at the Fishes Council conference in Chattanooga.

The fish on the Desperate Dozen list are those disappearing most rapidly from their home ranges. Some, like the Alabama sturgeon, could be extinct in a few years.

Scientists have been less and less successful in their search for that fish. Only one relatively old male is known to survive, in the lower Alabama River.

Other fish still can be saved, if everyone plans now, Kuhajda said.

For example, the Alabama cavefish lives in only one cave near Madison, and development is approaching. But if buildings, pavement and stormwater drains are planned properly they can avoid harming the cave's water and its resident population of cavefish, Kuhajda said.

The scientists hope that by publicizing the Desperate Dozen list they can get the public's support for saving the fish.

"We just need everyone on board to plan this ahead of time rather than reacting to crises, which seems like it's all we ever do," Kuhajda said. "It's so much cheaper to do it on the front end rather than the back end."

Half of the listed fish are darters, small fish that have no ability to move up and down in the water and balance themselves, but instead dart across the bottoms of streams.

Being so reliant on the bottom, darters are extremely vulnerable to changes in rivers and creeks. When stream banks erode, the resulting sedimentation can keep the brightly colored fish from finding each other. If the rocks on the bottom are embedded in mud, they can't flip them over to find food or make nests under them, according to the Southeastern Fishes Council information.

Other endangered fish, such as the Alabama sturgeon, have come to the brink of extinction because their habitat was so altered by dams. Many fish need to swim upstream, sometimes hundreds of miles, before they can spawn.

The Southeastern Fishes Council is made up of 200 fish scientists from Missouri to Florida.