Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes
Tiny Catfish Species Pulls Back From Near-Extinction
November 14, 2005
A species of tiny catfish once thought extinct has rebounded in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest after nearly two decades of recovery efforts.
Knoxville News Sentinel
The 3-inch smoky madtom was only discovered in Abrams Creek in the Smokies in 1957 — after a routine fish kill was conducted to reduce the rough fish population and improve trout fishing. Scientists thought they had wiped out the newly discovered species.
The fish was believed to be extinct until 1980, when a group of researchers from the University of Tennessee discovered them in Citico Creek in the Cherokee National Forest.
"A species thought to be extinct was rediscovered," said Jim Herrig, an aquatic biologist for the forest. "We now have two strong populations, one in Citico, one in Abrams, and we're making good progress on Tellico (River)."
The madtom's recovery efforts began in 1986, when eggs were collected from the Citico by Conservation Fisheries, a private, nonprofit hatchery in Knoxville. They began releasing the raised fish in both the Tellico River in the Cherokee National Forest and Abrams Creek.
After years of frustration, scientists are starting to see the return, with snorkeling surveys revealing high numbers of fish less than a year old in all three sites.
On Sept. 21, biologists observed five wild-spawned smoky madtoms in the Tellico. They have only been stocking that site for two years.
"This has been a historic summer for the smoky madtom," said Pat Rakes of Conservation Fisheries. "For the first time since the species was thought to be extinct, there are three known reproducing populations."
"Snorkeling Abrams Creek used to be the most frustrating thing in the world," said J.R. Shute with the fisheries. "Now we go there and see more wild-spawned fish than we do our own."
Scientists also are working to bring back some other small, federally listed fishes: the yellowfin madtom,