Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 25, 2022


Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Endangered Species Protection Sought for Tiny Virginia Fish

Roughhead Shiner Slipping Into Extinction in James River Basin

RICHMOND, Va.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal petition today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the roughhead shiner, an olive-colored minnow found only in the upper James River watershed in western Virginia.

The 3-inch fish, named for the bumps on its head, lives in the Cowpasture River and its tributary creeks in Alleghany, Bath and Craig counties, where it’s being displaced by the telescope shiner, an invasive fish.

“The roughhead shiner is an emblem of the quiet extinction crisis unfolding in our nation’s rivers,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection will bring a recovery plan to pull it back from the brink.”

The shiner was first identified as threatened 50 years ago and was put on a waiting list for federal protection in 1994. The state of Virginia has identified it as a species of critical concern but doesn’t have the necessary funding for monitoring or restoration.

“People ask, Why save one little fish when there are so many other kinds? But it’s like March Madness. How boring would it be without all the different teams? The roughhead shiner is like St. Peters, finally getting its day in the sun,” said Curry.

North America has lost 57 kinds of freshwater fish to extinction in the past 125 years. Nearly 40% of the continent’s fish are at risk of extinction due to dams, pollution, invasive species and climate change. The extinction rate for freshwater fish is now nearly 900 times greater than the historical rate.

Another Virginia fish, the ironically named slender chub, hasn’t been seen since 1996 and is likely extinct. The fish was so rare that when it wasn’t detected in surveys, scientists expected to find it during the next survey. Sadly it wasn’t brought into captivity in time to survive and propagate.

“There’s still time to save the roughhead shiner so that it doesn’t become another ‘don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ fish like the slender chub,” said Curry. “Endangered Species Act protection is the surest way to make sure it’s still here for future generations.”

View more photos of the roughhead shiner here.

Roughhead shiner. Credit Derek Wheaton
A roughhead shiner. Image is available for media use. Credit: Derek Wheaton

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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