On May 22, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a proposal to list two intriguing North Carolina aquatic species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The FWS was spurred to act in part by a 2010 petition and subsequent litigation from environmental organizations to list over 400 aquatic species found in the southeastern United States. The two species the agency deems as needing protection in this proposed rule are the Carolina madtom (Noturus furiosus), a poisonous catfish, and the Neuse River waterdog (Necturus lewisi), a freshwater salamander.
The Carolina madtom is a medium-sized bottom-dwelling freshwater catfish that the FWS describes as “the most strongly armed of the North American catfishes with stinging spines containing a potent poison in their pectoral fins.” According to the proposed rule, the species faces myriad threats, including declining water quality, fragmentation of riparian and instream habitats, and an increase in invasive predators. In order to address these threats, the FWS proposes listing the Carolina madtom as endangered under the ESA and designating approximately 257 river miles in North Carolina as critical habitat for the madtom.
The Neuse River waterdog is a slightly larger than average salamander that can grow up to 11 inches long. Native to the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse River basins in North Carolina, the Neuse River waterdog is a sight and scent feeder that ingests its prey whole, sometimes vomiting up and re-swallowing larger items. The FWS takes a slightly different tack with this non-migratory amphibian, proposing to list it as a threatened species under the ESA with an accompanying rule under section 4(d) of the ESA. FWS also proposes to designate approximately 738 river miles as critical habitat for the salamander.
In its notice announcing the proposed listing of the Carolina madtom and the Neuse River waterdog, the FWS asks for public comments concerning a range of issues, from the species’ biology and range, to what measures are necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species, to specific issues with the proposed critical habitat designations. The notice states that FWS will accept comments on the proposed rules until July 22, 2019.