The Cumberland darter has a limited range in the upper Cumberland River drainage, most of which is in Kentucky. A proposed rule is currently in review to federally list this species as endangered, because of recent range curtailment and fragmentation resulting from habitat degradation. CFI, in cooperation with Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife (KDFWR), developed captive propagation protocols for reintroduction of the Cumberland darter into streams within its native range to restore populations that have been extirpated. Because of the apparent rarity of this species, captive propagation and reintroduction is considered an appropriate tool for its recovery and eventual delisting. Propagated individuals will be released within the watershed from which brood stock are taken, to avoid mixing potentially unique evolutionary lineages. Reintroduction sites will be chosen where habitat conditions are suitable and there is some level of protection (e.g., within wildlife management area or national forest boundaries). Survivability and movement patterns of released fish will be assessed through mark-recapture methods and through periodic monitoring using non-invasive methods, such as visual census techniques.
Captive propagation and reintroduction are considered appropriate tools for the recovery and eventual delisting of the Cumberland darter. Although the life history of the johnny darter (Etheostoma nigrum) has been relatively well studied, details of the reproductive biology (e.g., spawning behavior) of the Cumberland darter was unknown, though turned out to be similar. Identification of critical habitat and other environmental conditions necessary for spawning to occur is essential to the recovery of this species. Restoration of extirpated populations through reintroduction is considered a necessary step to remove the Cumberland darter from the Endangered and Threatened Wildlife list.
August 2009 the 60 juvenile Cumberland darters propagated at CFI were released into Cogur Fork, McCreary County KY. Production efforts in 2010 and 2011 yielded 335 and 297 larvae respectively each year. The addition of a chiller to the rearing system of the larvae greatly increased larval survivorship and 2012 production increased to 1800 Cumberland darter juveniles! Although Cogur Fork apparently lacked Cumberland darters prior to stocking, habitat appeared suitable, and two other commonly associated darter species were present (rainbow and stripetail). The release of the low number of propagated fish was intended to test potential survivorship and dispersal. We are looking forward to participating in monitoring efforts to see how these fish are doing in their new home.