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Native Catfish, Salamander Receive Protections As Endangered Species

It has been over a decade since the Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned the federal government to add the Carolina Madtom and the Neuse River Waterdog to the endangered species list. Effective today, both species are now federally protected. Ashlyn DeLoughy has this report.

The streams that flow into the Tar and Neuse Rivers of Eastern North Carolina are home to the Carolina Madtom, a 5-inch long venomous catfish, and the Neuse River Waterdog, a black spotted aquatic salamander. In fact, this is the only place in the world where these two species can be found.

“The southeast is such a special place in terms of diversity, of freshwater animals in particular and salamanders like North Carolina has more than 60 different kinds of salamanders.”

That’s Tierra Curry, a Senior Biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“So it should really be something that people take a source of local pride in just that how many species of salamanders and fish and crawdads and mussels, there are in North Carolina, it's such a beautiful diverse place.”

The Carolina Madtom has lost 64 percent of its historical range while the Neuse River waterdog has lost 35 percent. Curry says this decline could be a result of sedimentation and changes in water quality.

“Modern life, it does a lot of things that insult, water pollution, like development runoff from parking lots, confined animal feeding operations, agriculture that doesn't keep sediment out of the stream or it doesn't keep pesticides or fertilizers out of the stream, all of these inputs together really degrade the water quality that hurt these special species that live in North Carolina and nowhere else.”

On June 9th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Carolina madtom catfish will now receive protection as an endangered species and nearly 260 river miles will be designated as its critical habitat.

The Neuse River waterdog salamander will be protected as a threatened species with an E-S-A Section 4-d rule. Nearly 780 river miles will be designated as its critical habitat. Under the rule, logging can continue in its habitat if certain practices are followed to prevent sediment pollution.

Lilibeth Serrano, Public Affairs Specialist for the Raleigh field office of the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service says these critical habitat designations are essential to conservation.

“What the listing always entails is protection from what the law calls take. Take is, it's a very broad definition, basically bothering the animal, harassing it, killing it, pursuing it in the wild, having it, owning it, all of that is, is now illegal for these two species. There are so few of them that we really want to make sure that every single individual that's out there is able to function in the wild.”

Most of the riverbanks and access areas adjacent to madtom and waterdog habitat are privately owned. But Serrano says most property owners won’t notice any difference with the new protected status.

The Fish and Wildlife Service awarded over 100-thousand dollars to North Carolina State University to research the Neuse River waterdog. Eric Teitsworth, a graduate student in the College of Natural Resources at NC State, is part of this team of researchers.

“I'm hopeful that, you know, having this designation, requiring developers to, you know, follow certain regulations and how they impact waterways, or even just requiring both the state and the federal government to have some, you know, monitoring regimen is really important for this species and I think that we're catching it at a time when we actually still have the ability to do something about it, and it's less likely that we'll lose the species because of it.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has also partnered with Conservation Fisheries Inc. and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to breed Carolina Madtoms in captivity and further prevent extinction. The new federal rules and regulations under the ESA, will become effective on Friday, July 9th.