Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 20, 2023


Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Tiny Virginia Fish Moves Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

Roughhead Shiner Slipping Towards Extinction in James River Basin

RICHMOND, Va.— In response to a legal petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the roughhead shiner, an olive minnow found only in the upper James River watershed in western Virginia, may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

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 is being displaced by an invasive fish, the telescope shiner.

“Endangered Species Act protection is the most powerful tool we have to prevent animals from going extinct, so it’s great news that the roughhead shiner is officially on the path to protection,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Federal wildlife officials need to move quickly to prevent these tiny fish from going extinct.”

The Center petitioned for protection for the fish last March. In response to today’s finding, the Service will accept public comments and conduct a one-year status review that will determine whether the shiner will be proposed for protection as an endangered species.

The shiner was first identified as threatened 50 years ago and was put on a waiting list for ESA protection in 1994. The state of Virginia has identified it as a species of critical concern but hasn’t had needed funding for monitoring or restoration. Endangered Species Act protection would make funding available to recover the fish.

Fifty years after the passage of the Endangered Species Act, several freshwater fish that were once protected have now successfully recovered. These include the snail darter, Modoc sucker, Oregon chub, Borax Lake chub and Foskett speckled dace.

North America has lost 57 kinds of freshwater fish to extinction in the last 125 years, and nearly 40% of the continent’s fish are at risk of extinction because of dams, pollution, invasive species and climate change. The extinction rate for freshwater fish is nearly 900 times faster now than it has been historically.

Roughhead shiner. Photo credit: Derek Wheaton. 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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