Candy darter

Although darters in general make up 20 percent of freshwater fish species in North America, candy darters are found only in a portion of West Virginia and Virginia.

Following a review of the best available scientific information, peer review and public comment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is listing the candy darter as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The darter is found only in five watersheds in Virginia and West Virginia, and nearly half of the populations documented since 1932 have disappeared.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing critical habitat designations for the darter in the five watersheds where it lives. A recovery outline is being prepared for the species in partnership with the state and other partners.

The release said the agencies plan to use nonregulatory approaches to engage landowners and other partners to collaboratively restore candy darter habitat and establish experimental populations.

Darters are an integral part of Eastern freshwater stream environments and help other wildlife by transporting freshwater mussel larvae and becoming food for larger species. Many darter species require clean waters, making them a useful biological indicator of stream health.

The species’ primary threat is hybridization with another fish, the variegate darter. Although the Service initially proposed to list the species as threatened, reanalysis of genetic evidence revealed that hybridization throughout the species’ range is likely more advanced than originally documented, speeding up the timeline of possible extinction in the foreseeable future.

Anglers can play a key role in candy darter conservation by dumping their unused bait into the trash rather than rivers or streams. Live bait fish can upset natural fish communities and may lead to the decline of some species, including the candy darter.

Endangered status for the species is effective 30 days after the final rule is published in the Federal Register. The listing will take effect Dec. 21.

The public comment period for proposed critical habitat designation will be open for 60 days. Comments can be submitted at regulations.gov under docket # FWS–R5–ES–2017–0056. Following the comment period, the Service will make a final decision regarding critical habitat for the species.

For more information, visit fws.gov/northeast/candydarter.

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