Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes


2001 Report of Region 3 - North-Central
Status surveys and other interesting finds
As we have reported previously, the French Broad river, below Douglas Dam has shown improvement in the fish community in recent years. Fishes like tangerine and bluebreast darters (Percina aurantiaca, and Etheostoma camurum) were collected there for the first time in 1999, and other fishes known from that stretch of river have become more abundant, including blue suckers (Cycleptus elongatus) and snail darters (Percina tanasi). Also, Jim Layzer (Tennessee Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit, formerly listed as Tennessee Tech) reported that he has a graduate student doing a larval survey of this stretch of the French Broad River.

In summer 2000, biologists from 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 again stocked lake sturgeon in the French Broad River below Douglas dam. Follow-up surveys in this stretch of river have resulted in the observation or collection of four individuals in tailwater samples.

There are four other reports of sturgeon (none are well-documented) from Tennessee. TVA fisheries biologists recently heard reports of two possible lake sturgeon catches in the Tennessee system. Charlie Saylor heard reports that crappie fishermen, fishing with minnow-tipped jigs, caught a lake sturgeon in Norris Reservoir (Anderson Co., TN). The fish was released, but was reportedly three to four feet long, and ~50 pounds. Although it can't be verified, the size of this animal indicates it could have resulted from 1993 stockings TVA made in the Clinch River upstream of Norris Reservoir. Donnie Lowery, a TVA fishery biologist, also heard a report of a recent catch of "a big fish with barbels, that wasn't a catfish" from Nickajack Reservoir on the Tennessee system (Marion Co., TN). Also, Rick Bivens (TWRA) received a report that a fisherman caught and released a 14 inch sturgeon in upper Watts Bar Reservoir (near the I-75 bridge, Loudon Co., TN). It seems possible that some of the individuals stocked upstream of Fort Loudoun reservoir (beginning in 1999) could have moved this far downstream in the Tennessee system. Also, according to Rob Todd of the TWRA, Mr. Thomas Cunningham, a commercial fisherman, reported the recent catch of a 12-14 pound sturgeon in Old Hickory Reservoir on the Cumberland River (Wilson/Sumner counties). The fish was taken from a 3-inch-mesh gill net, and released alive. Since Etnier & Starnes list no pallid or shovelnose sturgeon in the Cumberland River, at least since the locks were put in place, this is likely to be a lake sturgeon. The last reports of lake sturgeon from the Cumberland system were two individuals collected in 1977 and 1978.

TVA crews continue to sample approximately 200 sites across the watershed, annually, which often results in interesting fish finds. For example, another interesting collection includes a report from Amy Wales of a blotchside logperch, P. burtoni, in little Buffalo River (Lewis Co., TN). TVA biologists again collected blue suckers Cycleptus elongatus in the Nolichucky River, while gathering information for an Environmental Impact Statement on ways to address the effects of accumulated sand and silt in Nolichucky Reservoir. The recent (summer 2000) TVA fish surveys basically confirmed the results of a TWRA survey in the Nolichucky River (Greene Co., TN) in 1999. At a TVA "fixed" IBI site on the Holston River upstream of Cherokee Reservoir (Surgoinsville, Hawkins Co., TN), Charlie Saylor reports regularly collecting one or two spotfin chubs, Erimonax (=Cyprinella) monacha. However, this year (2001) they found 16 juveniles, indicating continued improvement of this spotfin chub population.

Recent 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. A committee of knowledgeable individuals (including Etnier, Saylor, etc. . .) put together a list of fishes known or likely to have inhabited the Pigeon River before they were extirpated by water quality problems related to paper company effluent upstream in NC. The committee decided to start with relatively common fishes that could be collected in large numbers elsewhere in the French Broad system. To date, several hundred elastomer-tagged adult blueside and gilt darters (E. jessiae and Percina evides) have been released at specific sites in the Pigeon River. University of Tennessee graduate students, and others will monitor the success of this project.

Once again, attempts by several survey crews (Univ. Alabama, Univ. of Tennessee, Conservation Fisheries, Inc., CFI) to find slender chubs (Erimystax cahni) at Frost Ford in the Clinch River, were unsuccessful. However, for the second consecutive year, two pygmy madtoms (Noturus stanauli) were collected there. These were kept live, and added to the captive population at CFI. Six pygmy madtoms that CFI had reared from a captive spawning of the pair collected in 2000 were released back into the Clinch River on that same date.

Tyler Sykes, of the Cookeville office of FWS, reported that Rick Mayden and his crew from the University of Alabama have been conducting a survey for the elusive "Chucky" madtom. This is another fish whose status is apparently extremely tenuous. Only one individual has been collected in the past several years, in spite of intensive surveys.

Tyler also reported that the FWS is supporting a graduate student from the Tennessee Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit (supervised by Jim Layzer) to perform a status survey of the bluemask darter [E. (Doration) sp.]. Presumably, this data will allow for an assessment of the current status of the species in comparison with data presented in Steve Layman's pre-listing surveys.

The creek didn't rise too much, and the Duckfest did take place, when on 3-4 June 2000, 32 biologists, representing at least ten different institutions or agencies converged on the lower end of the Duck River. They collected at least 78 species of fishes by various means. If you're interested in seeing how hard they worked, and exactly what species they collected, Jon Ambruster has created a nice website (http://george.cosam.auburn.edu:591/Duckfest/duckfest.html) containing information about this field trip.

Ben Keck, a U.T. graduate student is starting a project on the fishes of the Hatchie River system. He will be repeat surveying the sites that Wayne Starnes surveyed in the 1970's, and adding some others.

The updated 2 nd printing of the Fishes of Tennessee should be available by mid- or late summer. Etnier has permission from UT Press to reproduce the seven pages or so of addenda, and about four pages of corrections. He plans on having these printed for distribution (at cost-should be small).

Captive propagation, reintroduction, and other management activities

Pat Rakes and J. R. Shute (CFI) report that they still maintain captive populations of: Erimonax monacha; Notropis mekistocholas; N. cahabae; Fundulus julisia; Noturus baileyi; N. flavipinnis; N. stanauli; N. stimosus (Hatchie River form); E. boehlkei; Etheostoma chienense; E. wapiti; E. percnurum; Percina copelandi; P. aurora; and P. aurolineata. In addition to those reported previously, recent successful captive spawnings include Noturus stanauli, N. bailey and N. stigmosus.

As previously reported, spotfin chubs, and smoky and yellowfin madtoms (Erimonax monacha, N. baileyi, and N. flavipinnis), were again captively propagated and reintroduced into Abrams Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (Blount County, TN). No duskytail darters were stocked in 2000. Finally, reproduction was documented for all four of the reintroduced fishes in Abrams Creek, as several young-of-year spotfin chubs were observed, and individuals of all four reintroduced populations were observed on most monitoring surveys. Duskytail darters are regularly nesting in Abrams Creek and their numbers are increasing every year.

The status of Fundulus julisia, Barrens topminnow continues to be tenuous. In fact, for the second consecutive year (1999 and 2000) it became necessary to "rescue" Barrens topminnows remaining in the type locality pond (Summittville Mountain Spring, or as most folks know it, "Joe Banks' place", Coffee Co., TN) before the spring dried up. Topminnows were maintained at the CFI facility in Knoxville, and released back into the spring when water returned. Those released back into the spring in 2000 reproduced and all came through the winter of 2000- 2001. Tyler Sykes, of the FWS, reports several activities that will hopefully improve the status of this fish. A "Barrens Topminnow Memorandum of Understanding" has been circulated among the organizations and agencies interested in the conservation of the species. It outlines recommendations of the Barrens Topminnow Working Group. One of these activities is a cooperative effort (FWS, TWRA, CFI, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Tennessee Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit, and several private landowners) to establish about a half dozen refugia populations for the topminnows. When a suitable area has been created or enhanced, captively produced topminnows will be reintroduced. In conjunction with this, Jim Layzer's graduate student, Andrea Johnson, will help by monitoring the success of these reintroduction efforts. Another part of the working group's efforts will be public education. To help with this, Joe Tomelleri has recently finished a Barrens Topminnow illustrations (another one of his wonderful prints). Copies of this print will be provided to cooperating landowners.

J.R. Shute & Pat Rakes (CFI) released 290 captively propagated subadult and adult boulder darters, Etheostoma wapiti, at two sites on the Elk River (of the Tennessee system, Giles & Lincoln Cos., TN). While many of these were stocked at a site where a cooperative project (TWRA, FWS, TVA, CFI) had resulted in augmenting boulder habitat, the majority were stocked upstream of Harms Mill dam a few miles below Fayetteville, which J.R. and Pat had determined to be a significant barrier, after surveys in 1999. Before releasing the darters, Pat and J.R. snorkeled at the site of habitat augmentation (at the I-65 bridge, Giles Co., TN), and noted that the boulder darter population size has apparently increased here, probably as a result of the rocks that have been placed there the previous year. Tyler Sykes (FWS) reported that more of this habitat augmentation is planned for this summer (2001).

Tyler Sykes (FWS) reported that her office has a project to improve habitat in Bayou de Chien (Graves & Hickman Cos., KY), for relict darters (E. chienense). They are working with NRCS personnel and several landowners to implement agricultural Best Management Practices, and restore riparian vegetation.

As reported previously, there have been several proposals for reintroducing fish, snails, and mussels into appropriate habitats within the Tennessee system. Recently, (Federal Register 66:32250- 32264, June 14, 2001) the establishment of Nonessential Experimental Population Status was published for 16 freshwater mussels and one freshwater snail in the free-flowing reach of the Tennessee River below the Wilson Dam (Colbert and Lauderdale Cos., AL).

Also as we reported last year, spotfin chubs are one of four fish species proposed for reintroduction at several sites in the Tennessee system. However, to date, only one Nonessential Experimental Population status proposed rule has been published. This proposal (Federal Register 66:30853-30860, June 8, 2001) proposes to reintroduce duskytail darter, and smoky and yellowfin madtoms, in addition to the spotfin chub, into the Tellico River upstream of the Tellico Reservoir (Monroe Co., TN). Comments on this proposal are requested before August 7, 2001. If successful, these reintroductions could eventually lead to down-listing, or de-listing these fishes from the federal Endangered Species List.

Peggy W. Shute and David A. Etnier