NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — More efforts are being made to protect a threatened species of fish in Tennessee called the sickle darter.

The Percina williamsi (sickle darter) can grow up to 5 inches long, has a black stripe on its back, and has a pointed snout.

While the fish used to be found in rivers across southern Appalachia, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, its habitat has whittled down significantly with only six populations remaining.

The national nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity has been working to protect the fish for more than a decade.

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will be looking for public comment and feedback as it moves toward finalizing the designation of 104 miles of rivers in Tennessee and Virginia as a critical habitat for the sickle darter. This comes after the Service designated it as a threatened species in November.

“When we protect the sickle darter’s future, we’re also safeguarding our own,” said Will Harlan, a scientist at the center. “People need healthy water and healthy rivers, just like the animals who live in them.”

The proposed critical habitats include areas of the Little River, Emory River, Copper Creek, North Fork of the Holston River, Middle Fork of the Holston River and Sequatchie River.

“We are encouraging Fish and Wildlife to slightly expand the critical habitat designation beyond the six small populations where the sickle darter presently occurs to include three other rivers in southern Appalachia where they used to occur but were wiped out by pollution and dams,” Harlan added.

Species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as species without it, according to Harlan.

Eighty percent of the area outlined for the sickle darter is already been listed as a critical habitat for several other species, including the spotfin chub, duskytail darter, littlewing pearlymussel, and slabside pearlymussel.

For the areas under critical habitat designation, developers would have to ensure they don’t harm the sickle darter or change their habitat.

Photo of Sickle Darter courtesy of Conservation Fisheries Inc.
Sickle Darter (Courtesy: Conservation Fisheries Inc.)

“The primary threats to the sickle darter are siltation, water pollution and dams. Siltation from logging and development fills the spaces between rocks on the river bottom that the fish needs to lay eggs and find prey,” explained Harlan. “The sickle darter’s water is also polluted by animal waste, domestic sewage, pesticides, and heavy metals from mining. Dams have isolated sickle darter populations and limited their movement.”

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Other species that inhabit areas of Middle Tennessee that recently received protections under the Endangered Species Act include the tricolored bat (Perimyotis subflavos) and the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis). Both were up listed from threatened to endangered, due to habitat loss and the threat of the fungal disease, White Nose Syndrome.

Meanwhile, scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity are working to get more protections for Barrens topminnow (Fundulus julisia), which occurs only in three locations in Middle Tennessee, according to Harlan, but it doesn’t have a critical habitat. Additionally, they are working to save the Barrens darter, a rare fish only found in areas of Middle Tennessee.