A Barrens topminnow. (Photo: Emily Granstaff/USFWS)

The Barrens topminnow is a beautiful, iridescent fish, rarely growing longer than four inches, which is found in only a few creeks and springs of the Barrens Plateau in four Middle Tennessee counties. The little fish is in trouble, due to the introduction of the non-native western mosquitofish, which is invading the minnow’s habitat, outcompeting it for food and directly preying on young topminnows. On top of that, the impact of the drought means the minnow is struggling to survive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now proposing to help protect the Barrens topminnow as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

“There has already been a good deal of successful conservation work on the Barrens topminnow by many partners including the Barrens Topminnow Working Group, Conservation Fisheries Inc., and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga,” said Leopoldo Miranda, assistant regional director for the service’s Ecological Services program in the Southeast Region. “Extending protected status is a signal that more work is needed, and we look forward to cooperating with the many organizations and people trying to help this fish.”


Recovery efforts for the Barrens topminnow began in the 1970s and have been successful at producing fish for stocking. The Fish and Wildlife Service has also worked with landowners to protect and improve Barrens topminnow habitat. And a concerted effort began in the 1990s to restock topminnows into 27 springs throughout their historic range with the cooperation of many landowners.

The Barrens Topminnow Working Group – consisting of the USFWS, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Tech University researchers and nonprofit organizations such as the Tennessee Aquarium and Conservation Fisheries Inc. – was created in 2001 to coordinate actions such as habitat improvement, propagation and stocking. Although more than 44,000 Barrens topminnow have been stocked into 27 sites, the prevalence of the western mosquitofish has made recovery challenging.

The mosquitofish, apparently introduced into the area in the 1960s in an effort to control mosquito populations, has proved only moderately successful at doing so. But it has proved to be very efficient at outcompeting Barrens topminnows. The mosquitofish rapidly expand their populations into all corners of an available body of water. Once they move into an area where Barrens topminnows reside, the topminnows essentially cease reproduction.

Topminnow males are showy and iridescent, with background colors of greens and blues, and with reddish-orange spots and yellow fins. Females, juveniles and non-reproductive males are more drab, with pale brown bodies sprinkled with darker spots.

Current and historic range of the Barrens topminnow. (Map: USFWS)

USFWS accepting public comments

The proposed endangered listing is based on the recent completion of a peer-reviewed Species Status Assessment for the fish. The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments on this proposed rule. The Service must receive requests for public hearings in writing at this address: Tennessee Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 446 Neal St., Cookeville, TN 38506 by Feb. 20, 2018.

You may submit comments by one of the following methods:

By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2017–0094, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803. Comments must be received or postmarked by March 5, 2018.

Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2017–0094, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!” Comments submitted electronically must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date.

The Service requests that you send comments only by the methods described above. They will post all comments on regulations.gov. This generally means the Service will post any personal information you provide.

For more information, contact Mary Jennings, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tennessee Ecological Services Field Office, 446 Neal St., Cookeville, TN 38506; by phone at 931–528–6481; or by fax at 931–528–7075.