Bringing Back Aquatic Diversity, The Pigeon River Recovery Project

In 2001, a cooperative effort was begun to restore native fish populations to the Pigeon River, once so polluted that all mollusks and many fish species were extirpated. Volunteers from federal and state agencies, industry, and private organizations created the Pigeon River Recovery Project to begin re-introduction of fish and other aquatic species. Early successes in Tennessee led to the expansion of the project into western North Carolina. More than 29,000 individuals representing 20 species of fish and 220,000 snails (six species) collected from the French Broad basin and the upper reaches of the Pigeon River have been re-introduced into the Pigeon River at selected sites in the two states. The first three candidates were the gilt, bluebreast and blueside darters, followed by the stripetail darter in 2003. Reproduction was first documented in gilt darters in 2003. Monitoring surveys over the past five years have documented gilt, bluebreast, and stripetail darters, mountain madtoms, and mountain brook lampreys in the Pigeon River, Tennessee. In 2005, a survey of the lower Pigeon River documented gilt darters in nearly every riffle; this species appears to be re-colonizing the lower Pigeon River. Nine species have been transplanted into the North Carolina segment; four shiners (mirror, telescope, Tennessee, silver) and the gilt darter have been collected during monitoring efforts. As of 2010, silver and telescope shiners have re-established populations in a 15-mile segment of the Pigeon River, North Carolina, and gilt and stripetail darters have established populations, along with the mountain brook lamprey, in Tennessee.

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