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Feds Propose Rare Cave Fish for Protection

Grotto Sculpin Threatened by Water Pollution, Predation

Washington, DC – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today that it will propose to list the grotto sculpin (Cottus sp. nov.) as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and to designate critical habitat for the species in the only place it occurs in Perry County, Missouri. The grotto sculpin has been a candidate for listing for more than 10 years. The Service identified water pollution, predation by nonnative species and a lack of protective measures as primary threats to the species.

“Where we have threatened species with extinction, we have an obligation to save them,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Listing under the Endangered Species Act is the first step toward recovery.”

The grotto sculpin is a unique population of banded sculpin endemic to caves in Perry County, Missouri. It may be the only population adapted for subterranean life in underground streams. Scientists have documented the distinctive characteristics of the grotto sculpin, but haven’t yet formally described the population as a separate species or subspecies.

Perry County is known as one of the cave capitals of the United States, with more than 630 recorded limestone caves (or karsts). However, the grotto sculpin is restricted to a relatively small area including Blue Spring Branch (from the Moore Cave System resurgence to the confluence with Bois Brule Creek) and the Cinque Hommes Creek drainage, including underlying caves and Cinque Hommes Creek.

The Service identified water pollution as a primary threat to the sculpin. At least two karst systems inhabited by grotto sculpin near Perryville, Missouri, have been contaminated from urban runoff in recent years. Two other systems have experienced significant fish kills that may have been caused by water pollution. Local residents are also known to throw household garbage and other trash into sinkholes, which may affect water quality.

The Service has proposed to designate 36 square miles of underground aquatic habitat and 19 miles of surface stream as critical habitat for the cave fish. Species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those without critical habitat.

The grotto sculpin is one of 252 candidate species covered in WildEarth Guardians’ settlement agreement with the Service, announced on May 10, 2011, and approved by a federal court on September 9, 2011. The agreement obligates the agency to either list or find “not warranted” for protection all 252 candidates by September 2016.


 

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