Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 27, 2023


Meg Townsend, (971) 717-6409,

Lawsuit Seeks Endangered Species Protection for Rare Fish in Georgia, Tennessee

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for denying Endangered Species Act protection to the bridled darter.

Despite clear scientific evidence that the imperiled fish in Georgia and Tennessee faces multiple threats to its survival, including habitat destruction and climate change, the Trump administration denied protection in 2017.

“Saving these little fish means saving the rivers and streams they need to survive, benefitting us all, so the federal government’s failure is truly unacceptable,” said Meg Townsend, senior freshwater attorney at the Center. “Too often, the Fish and Wildlife Service denies clearly endangered species like the bridled darter the protections they deserve.”

For example, the Service recently lost a court case for denying protection to the eastern hellbender, North America’s largest salamander. The agency has had to redo decisions denying protection to several other species in recent years for failing to follow science. These include the southern hognose snake, Barrens darter, and Florida Keys mole skink.

Bridled darters, named for markings on their face and back that resemble a horse’s bridle and reins, exist only in small portions of six rivers and creeks in north Georgia and south Tennessee that feed into the Coosa River. Among these are the Conasauga and Etowah rivers.

Bridled darters could once be found throughout the upper Coosa River system, but urban sprawl from Chattanooga and Atlanta combined with expanding agriculture has shrunk the bridled darter’s habitat. Now each bridled darter population is tiny and isolated from others, making them more vulnerable to local threats.

The Center first petitioned for the protection of the bridled darter in 2010. Despite Service scientists predicting that two of the darter’s six populations will likely be lost in the next decade, the agency decided not to protect the fish.

After protection was denied, three populations once believed to be bridled darters have been reclassified as an entirely new species — the Etowah bridled darter — which means that there are even fewer bridled darters than previously believed.

The bridled darter is a unique species in the perch family that has a swim bladder, allowing it to feed within the water column and by plucking food off the streambed. Already isolated by dams, at least half the known populations are expected to disappear because of urbanization and climate change. Remaining populations will be forced into a handful of isolated streams, putting them at even greater risk of extinction.

RSBridled darter_Bernie Kuhajda-Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute(1)
Bridled darter photo by Bernie Kuhajda, Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. Image is available for media use.

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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