JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the designation of 524 river miles of critical habitat in Mississippi for the pearl darter on April 6, 2023.

The threatened pearl darter is a small bottom dwelling fish requiring protection under the Endangered Species Act. Its historical range includes the Pascagoula River and Pearl River drainage systems, but it has not been recorded in the Pearl for more than 40 years.

The critical habitat is comprised of two units, one occupied and one unoccupied, in Mississippi’s Clarke, Covington, Forrest, George, Lauderdale, Jackson, Jones, Newton, Perry, Simpson, Stone, and Wayne counties.

The pearl darter currently faces threats due to erosion, sedimentation, poor water quality and pollution. Small, scattered populations lack genetic diversity making them vulnerable to random events such as floods, droughts or pollutant spills.

The USFWS first proposed a total of 517 river miles in July 2021 and made the proposal available for comment and review. As a result of information received during that comment period, an additional seven miles of critical habitat were included in Chunky River for the final designation at the request of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP).

The rule goes into effect on May 8, 2023, and will be posted on regulations.gov.