For Immediate Release, March 1, 2023
Will Harlan, (828) 230-6818, WHarlan@biologicaldiversity.org
Frecklebelly Madtom Receives Endangered Species Protections in Georgia, Tennessee
Threatened Listing Includes Protected River Habitat But Logging Still Allowed
ATLANTA— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued a final rule that protects a population of frecklebelly madtom in the Upper Coosa River of Georgia and Tennessee as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency also proposed to designate 134 miles of the Etowah and Conasauga rivers as protected critical habitat, but the proposal would allow logging to continue.
Today’s decision comes in response to a 2010 petition and 2015 agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity and allies seeking protection for the imperiled fish.
“These cool little catfish are finally getting the Endangered Species Act protections they urgently need,” said Will Harlan, a scientist at the Center. “Protecting the frecklebelly madtom as threatened and setting aside critical habitat is a big win for these unique fish, but allowing logging to continue will muddy and clog the rivers they need to survive.”
The frecklebelly madtom has declined across its entire range in the Southeast, but the Service listed only the population found in the Upper Coosa watershed, where dams and pollution from agriculture and development are driving the species towards extinction. The madtom is also threatened by climate change, which is expected to increase the frequency and severity of droughts in the Southeast.
The Southeast’s rivers and streams are a hotspot of biological diversity, harboring 493 fishes — accounting for 62% of U.S fish species — and at least 269 mussels or 91% of all U.S. mussel species. The Coosa River is the site of the greatest modern extinction event in North America: 36 species were eliminated following construction of a series of dams. Overall, the Mobile Basin is home to half of all North American species that have gone extinct since European settlement.
The frecklebelly madtom is a small, stout catfish with a speckled stomach and four black saddles across its back. Growing to 4 inches in length, the fish occurs in medium to large rivers with clean gravel bottoms in both the Pearl River and Mobile River Basins of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
Both males and females construct nest cavities under rocks, logs, mussel shells or even bottles, cans or boards by moving substrate with their heads or mouths. Like all catfish, they have barbels around the mouth that act as sensory organs. They may go weeks without eating to guard their nests. Frecklebelly madtoms use stream vegetation to avoid predators. Dams and pollution have destroyed much of the stream vegetation in their remaining rivers.
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.