Species Profile: Spotfin Chub

Two male Spotfin Chubs sparring to “own” a preferred spawning site. Photo by Derek Wheaton of Conservation Fisheries, Inc.

Spotfin chub (Erimonax monachus) – Federally Threatened Species

One fish, two fish, red fish, Wow! What’s that blue fish! There are very few freshwater fishes as striking as a Spotfin Chub, Erimonax monachus, in breeding colors. Spotfin Chubs are found only in the Tennessee River drainage and have a spotty distribution that includes the Little Tennessee River and tributaries in North Carolina and Tennessee, the Holston River in Southwest Virginia, the Emory River and tributaries, and the Buffalo River in Tennessee. Several populations are known to have been extirpated and some of these are the focus of ongoing (and apparently successful!) recovery efforts.

Spotfin Chubs are most often found in shallow areas in the river with bedrock and swift current. They are not very tolerant of silt and sedimentation, which is likely why some of the historic populations disappeared. The males (which, by the way, are the ones that display the electric turquoise blue coloration) stake out crevasses in the bedrock and vigorously guard these sites in hopes of attracting females with whom they will spawn.

If successful in attracting a mate, spawning will result in eggs that are deposited deep into the cracks in the rock where predators cannot easily reach them. Spawning takes place throughout much of the summer and the males continue to guard these sites, attracting more and more females that add to the growing nest. As the eggs hatch, the larvae tend to move into the slower water, often over fine sand where they grow from about an eighth of an inch to maybe an inch or more during their first year of life.

Spotfin Chubs are currently listed as Federally Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This designation results in a Recovery Plan that describes recovery actions that, if successful could justify removing them from the protection of the ESA. According to the Spotfin Chub Recovery Plan’s recommended actions, there are several projects currently underway to restore populations into streams or stream reaches where they have disappeared. If some of these restored populations continue to show the success that appears to be effective, this remarkable fish may soon be able to be removed from that ESA list altogether.

So, next time you are in one of their streams, keep a lookout for a brilliant flash of turquoise under the water. Then, you may remember that Blue Fish you see is a Spotfin Chub!

Profile by J. R. Shute of Conservation Fisheries, Inc. Photo by Derek Wheaton of Conservation Fisheries, Inc.

This post is part of a series on the aquatic species of the Little Tennessee river basin by members of the Little T NFCP. To see all species profiles, click here. Please contact us if you’re interested in contributing!

Species Profile: Brook Trout

Brook trout. Photo by Freshwaters Illustrated.

Brook trout or “speckled trout” (Salvelinus fontinalis)

The only trout native to the Appalachians may be more unique than we know.  The scientific jury is still out as to whether our “speckled trout” are different from northern brook trout.  One thing is sure – this magnificent creature is losing ground to pollution, sedimentation, deforestation and invasive species (including other trout).  Every foot of stream containing brook trout merits all the protection we can give it.

Profile by Jason Meador of Mainspring Conservation Trust.

This post is part of a series on the aquatic species of the Little Tennessee river basin by members of the Little T NFCP. To see all species profiles, click here. Please contact us if you’re interested in contributing!

Spotfin Chub and Mussel Reintroductions in the Cheoah River

The Spotfin chub (Erimonax monachus), a brilliantly-colored, large minnow on the federal threatened species list, has been the focus of a series of reintroductions aimed at restoring native aquatic diversity back to the Cheoah River, a Little Tennessee River tributary.


Spotfin Chub

In 2005, minimum and ecologically improved flows were established in the Cheoah River and other habitat improvements have occurred as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Relicense Agreement.  Restoration of multiple species, including Appalachian elktoe, Alasmidonta raveneliana (Fed. & NC Endangered); Spotfin chub (Fed. & NC Threatened); Wavy-rayed lampmussel, Lampsilis fasciola and Rainbow mussel, Villosa iris (both NC Species of Concern), are part of the cooperative restoration plan for the Cheoah River.

Spotfin chubs are bred and reared in captivity from adults collected from the Little Tennessee River in Macon and Swain counties, NC. Reintroductions of captively-bred Spotfin chubs into the Cheoah began in 2009, and there have been approximately 1700 released to date. A total of 250 wild adults collected from the Little Tennessee River were also released in 2013 and 2014  Reproduction was first documented there in 2010 and continuously every year since.

This project has involved multi-agency cooperation with US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service; NC Wildlife Resources Commission, University of Tennessee and Conservation Fisheries, Inc., and major financial support from Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners. Wavy-rayed lampmussels and the wounded darter, a small, bottom-dwelling fish, are also being reintroduced.  Other native species that have been stocked more recently into the Cheoah River include the rainbow, slippershell and Appalachian elktoe mussels.  In total ~33,000 mussels have been propagated and re-introduced into the Cheoah.

Tagged slippershell mussels ready for release.

Tagged slippershell mussels ready for release in 2015.

Conservation Fisheries, Inc. in Knoxville, TN has been propagating the fish species for reintroduction using parent stock from the Little Tennessee River, while the mussels were translocated from the Little Tennessee River and have been propagated in NCWRC’s Conservation Aquaculture Center (CAC) in Marion, NC from Little Tennessee River broodstock.

Lake Sturgeon

Lake Sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens

Background Information

Lake sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens, are a temperate fish occurring in freshwater systems of North America from the Hudson Bay through the Mississippi River drainages. This sturgeon prefers sand or gravel habitat on the bottom on a riverbed or lake. Read more