A local fish, known to live in North Georgia waterways, has been added to the list of threatened species.

The trispot darter joins more than two dozen darter species across the country that are either threatened or endangered. The threatened designation means protective measures should be taken now to prevent further population decline.     

Darters are small, mostly colorful fish. The males, in particular, are brightly colored during the spawning season.  

Across eastern North America, there are almost 200 species of darter fish and about half live right here in the Southeast.
"Darters live right on the bottom, and they get their name because they dart around at the bottom. And they feed on aquatic insects that live in the gravel and rocks," Bernie Kuhajda, Science Program Manager at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, said.

Development, runoff, droughts and pollution can all negatively impact the habitats on which darter fish rely. That's why there are currently 26 endangered or threatened darter species in the United States.

"The trispot darter is only found in the Coosa River system. It barely gets a little bit into Tennessee, Georgia and Central Alabama," Kuhajda stated.

Trispot darters live in creeks but leave each year for their unique spawning process.

"Swims up into pastures and woods that only have water during the spring and early summer. It lays its eggs, and then they go back into the stream," Kuhajda explained.

Protecting a trispot darter's habitat is a challenge because groundwater is not present year-round.

However, their classification as a threatened species now allows the government to designate and protect certain stream and land areas as critical habitats.

"Critical habitat really doesn't affect a landowner. They can go about with their daily activities. It's mostly for when there are major projects at the federal or state level," Kuhajda assured.

If an area is designated as a critical habitat, a federal biologist must be consulted to ensure the habitat is not harmed before a building project, such as a new road or bridge.

There are ways you can help the trispot, fellow darters and other local threatened and endangered fish.

"Doing what you can to conserve water, joining other groups, and being a voice to your politicians," Kuhajda said.

Tennessee Aquarium officials said our three local major river systems, the Mobile, Tennessee and Cumberland basins, make up less than two percent of the U.S. and Canada, but they have half of the fish species in them. Yet, our area receives only a fraction of nationwide federal funding for fish conservation, so you are encouraged to get involved.

The public is welcome to submit comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the trispot darter's proposed critical habitat designations by February 26th. More information is provided on their website under the article's comment section.