News from the DNR Office of Communications

DNR Biologists Use New Technique To Look For Rare Fish

Biologists hold new hope for endangered Maryland Darter

Havre De Grace, Md. (October 26, 2009) — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists started a search for one of the rarest fish in the world, the Maryland darter. This particular species has only been found in three Maryland streams, was last seen in 1988, and many biologists fear it’s extinct. Biologists started the search on Friday, but suspended the rest of the search this weekend due to foul weather and plan to resume in November.

“Having such a rare fish sets Maryland apart from other places,” said DNR Biologist Scott Stranko. “If we’ve lost this species, it will be the first darter species (of over 180 species in the world) to go extinct. And, we will have lost a real natural landmark.”

In 1988, Richard Raesly of Frostburg University was one of the last people to see a live Maryland darter. Dr. Raesly and DNR biologists are making a last ditch effort to see if any Maryland darters remain. Along with surveys of the places where the fish was seen before, Tom Jones of Marshall University in West Virginia will be assisting Dr. Raesly and DNR with a new fishing technique to sample the bottom of the Susquehanna River.

“Aquatic organisms are still declining,” said Dr. Raesly. “They’re some of the most endangered groups of organisms. Fishes, freshwater mussels, crayfishes, amphibians; they’re one of the most endangered groups of animals in north America, and the common threat is they’re all aquatic.”

DNR biologists suspect Maryland has lost at least seven other stream species from the Baltimore area including: 2 salamanders, a freshwater mussel and three fish, and many of the stream dwelling species that remain are highly imperiled. Specifically, 14 of Maryland’s 16 (88%) native freshwater mussel species and 41 percent (29 of 71) of native freshwater fish species are on Maryland’s list of rare, threatened and endangered animals. Most have declined to a point where their future existence is difficult or impossible to guarantee, often because their habitats are shrinking and barely supportive.

“While Maryland has been losing native stream species, we’ve gained widespread non-native species like carp and snakeheads that can be found all over the world,” said Stranko. “If this trend continues, no streams will be special like the Maryland darter streams once were.”

Stream animals are more prone to extinction compared to terrestrial species. They live in a confined space, with no way to escape the harsh conditions. It only takes a small amount of asphalt or concrete near a freshwater stream to create enough runoff to harm the animals that live in the stream.

DNR biologists say there is good news. Many Maryland streams still drain relatively undeveloped land, and many rare species still live in the cleanest remaining streams. Protecting these areas from development and pollution can and should happen. Over the last two years, DNR has included rare species habitats as one of the criteria for deciding where to spend time and money on land conservation. It may not be too late to include Maryland darter streams on the list of important areas to conserve.

Learn more about Maryland’s rare, threatened and endangered species at

Learn more about land conservation in Maryland at

   October 26, 2009

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 461,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries, and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic, and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at