Endangered minnow bounces back

CARBONTON – Biologists say an endangered minnow is rebounding in central North Carolina, thanks largely to demolition of a dam.

Scientists first identified the Cape Fear Shiner in 1971. It was then known only in small reaches of the Haw and Deep rivers in Randolph, Chatham, Lee, Moore and Harnett counties.

By late 1987, the fish was on the federal Endangered Species List because of dwindling habitat caused by a long history of dams. The dam that was taken down was part of a hydroelectric plant built in 1921. It closed in 2004 and the dam was removed by 2006.

Officials say removal of a dam near Carbonton in southern Chatham County has resulted in one of the biggest ecological success stories in North Carolina.

The yellowish minnow with black stripes and pointed fins has been found in a 10-mile stretch of the Deep River. Biologists believe the fish had not inhabited that area in at least 80 years.

Raleigh-based Restoration Systems, which coordinated demolition of the dam while partnering with the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program, continues to monitor 58 sites along the Deep River to track its restoration.  

"The speed at which this recovery has taken place is what stands out," said Adam Riggsbee, an environmental scientist with the company.

Company co-owner George Howard said the project has breathed new life into the once-sluggish river. "Unfortunately, it’s such a lonely part of the world, not many people get to see it," Howard said. "But it really is a wonderful thing to see."