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Thought to be locally extinct, the Longhead Darter returns to Ohio

One of the longhead darters that was discovered in the Ohio River.
Ohio Division of Wildlife
One of the longhead darters that was discovered in the Ohio River.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife recently announced the discovery of a rare fish in the Ohio River. The species, known as the Longhead darter (Percina macrocephala), was found during a routine electrofishing survey late last year.

The longhead darter was thought to be locally extinct in Ohio. The small, olive colored fish thrived in the eastern part of the state but river dams and water quality issues pushed the darter out of the state some time ago. Now, it’s come back.

John Navarro with the Ohio Division of Wildlife said the discovery is a good sign–– the darter is an indicator of high water quality.

“I'd rather run around a stream that has darters in it because I know it's clean and doesn't have pollutants in it,” he said. “As opposed to one that is down to just a few species where you’re like ‘something's wrong here or maybe I shouldn't even be in this water.’”

The discovery of the fish comes on the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which regulates the release of pollutants into waters in the United States.

“We feel that the Ohio River is actually doing much better water quality wise and I always like to trumpet the Clean Water Act,” Navarro said.

Since the longhead darter is no longer locally extinct, or extirpated, in Ohio, the fish will be put on the state’s endangered species list. Navarro said, in this case, that move from extirpated to endangered is actually good news.

He hopes that soon there will be self-sustaining populations of the longhead darter across the state.

To find the longhead darter, Navarro said to look for areas of rivers and streams with shallow, fast moving water, also known as ripples.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is the Managing Editor at The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Chris got his start in radio in 2017 when he completed a six-month training at the Center for Community Voices. Most recently, he worked as a substitute host and the Environment Reporter at WYSO.