RALEIGH, N.C. – A federally endangered fish thought to
live only in two river basins in Virginia was recently discovered
in North Carolina.
The Roanoke logperch, one of the largest darters in the Perch
family, was thought to live only in portions of the Roanoke and
Chowan River basins of Virginia. However, biologists with the N.C.
Wildlife Resources Commission, the Division of Water Quality and
the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences found two populations of the
fish in the Mayo and Smith rivers earlier this summer —
discoveries that have sent ripples of excitement through
biologists who are more likely to see fish disappear, than
re-appear, in a river basin.
|Photo NC Wildlife Resources
“In a time when we’re seeing a major decline in aquatic
critters, we get really excited when a rare fish is possibly
expanding its range,” said Chris Wood, aquatic biologist with the
Commission. “We think this fish once occurred in most of the
Roanoke and Chowan basins of both North Carolina and Virginia but
has declined over the past century.
“What we think we see now is a remnant of the fish’s original
The search for the Roanoke logperch started by accident in 2007
after Duke Power biologists happened upon a lone specimen while
sampling the Dan River, just downstream of the Smith River, near
Eden. Another sampling effort later in 2007 produced only one more
specimen leading biologists to hypothesize that both fish were
either washed downstream from Virginia’s Smith River population
during a previous high-flow event or that drought conditions may
have caused the two fish to move downstream.
“The discoveries left us with two unanswered questions: Where did
these two fish come from? And could there actually be a
reproducing population of the Roanoke logperch in North Carolina,”
Wood said. “Further surveys were needed to scratch that scientific
That itch was scratched in the most exciting way possible in early
July when biologists found not one — but two — populations of
Roanoke logperches. On July 8, they captured three logperches
while surveying a short reach in the Mayo River, a large tributary
of the Dan River in Rockingham County. The three fish were
exciting finds because no records existed of the fish in either
the Virginia or North Carolina portions of the Mayo River.
A few weeks later, biologists found 10 Roanoke logperches in the
Smith River in Rockingham County, ranging in size from 2.5 inches
to 7 inches.
“The size range of the fish found in the Smith River indicates
that several age classes exist, which means that there is most
likely a reproducing population of Roanoke logperches in the
river,” Wood said.
Now that at least two populations of the federally endangered
Roanoke logperch have been verified in North Carolina, biologists
will look closely at the two populations to determine how
extensive and healthy they are. They’ll also look at other rivers
with similar habitat for more undiscovered Roanoke logperches.
Garnering as much information as possible about these populations
and their preferred habitat will aid biologists in future
management decisions and help guide the restoration of this rare
“Usually when we study a federally listed animal we are ‘chasing a
ghost’ by going to areas where the animal once occurred but now is
missing or extremely hard to find,” Wood said. “Finding a new
population, and in this case two, is extremely exciting because it
means there are more of that species than we thought, and maybe
the conservation efforts at the state and federal levels are
“Our priority goal for all federally endangered species is to get
them off the ‘list’ through restoring their populations.”