Animals and Insects

A tiny fish returns to Mississippi after vanishing 50 years ago

The 2.5-inch-long Pearl Darter was listed by the federal government as a threatened species in 2017.

A tiny fish returns to Mississippi after vanishing 50 years ago
Gerald Herbert / AP
SMS

Along a 400-mile river that runs from Mississippi into Louisiana, there are big hopes for a tiny fish.

The Pearl Darter has once again returned to its name-sake waterway, Pearl River, not far from Pinola, Mississippi.

Fifty years ago, pollution caused the tiny Pearl Darter, a snub-nosed bottom dweller, to vanish from a waterway stretching from central Mississippi to southeast Louisiana.

While some pollution issues persist, the water has improved in quality. It's now clean enough that state and federal officials are attempting to revive the Pearl Darter population by introducing fish from a private hatchery.

"This is the biggest win of my career as a biologist," said Matthew Wagner, a biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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It was a rare and exciting sight, marking the first documented sighting of the endangered fish in over 25 years.

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Wagner says oil and gas development, agricultural runoff, and dam construction contributed to the demise of the pearl darter in the 1970s. He and other environmentalists say clean-up efforts and regulations like the federal Clean Water Act have helped bring it back.

The 2.5-inch-long Pearl Darter was listed by the federal government as a threatened species in 2017.

But the rebound of other so-called pollution-sensitive species in the river gave biologists confidence that the darter could once again join them. There's no guarantee the fish will thrive. But there is hope.

"It's not just release them and forget them. I will hopefully be standing on the same sandbar a decade from now, and we'll have recruitment or natural reproduction in the wild of this fish, and that to me will be a huge success," said Wagner.

Pearl River is not only a habitat for approximately 300 species of birds, fish, and wildlife but is also beloved by people.