Wildlife officials downgrade protection status of West Kentucky fish to ‘threatened’

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, September 28, 2023

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By Liam Niemeyer

Kentucky Lantern

A small fish native to a stream system in West Kentucky is having its federal protection status under the Endangered Species Act downgraded from “endangered” to “threatened” in large part due to decades of conservation efforts.

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The relict darter, native to the Bayou de Chien stream system that runs through West Kentucky into the Mississippi River, was listed as endangered in 1993 after biologists documented the fish in the early 1990s.

The fish’s habitat has been impacted by water pollution and the channelization of waterways by farmers. A federal report in 1992 stated the relict darter had been documented only at nine sites in Hickman and Graves counties and that its “long-term genetic viability was questionable.”

Mike Oetker, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s Acting Region 4 Director, in a statement Tuesday said the move to reclassify the fish to “threatened” status is the result of conservation efforts that bring the fish “one step closer to recovery.”

A species is considered “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act when it is “in danger” of becoming extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its habitat and range. A species is “threatened,” a less severe category, when a species is “likely” to become endangered throughout some or all of its habitat.

“The [Endangered Species Act] thrives due to partnerships, and it is thanks to the innovative conservation efforts of these partnerships that the relict darter has been able to overcome some of the challenges it faces and improve its status,” Oetker said.

With the relict darter being listed as “threatened,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to tailor customized protections, such as take prohibitions, to the species.