Etheostoma akatulo | Bluemask Darter
The Bluemask Darter was described in 1993 by Steve Layman. It was subsequently listed as endangered due to it's very limited range in Tennessee. It has only been collected from the Caney Fork River System (above Great Falls), Cumberland River basin, in central Tennessee. Layman (1991) reviewed historic collection records and reported that the species has been collected from five rivers in the Caney Fork River system - Upper Caney Fork River, Collins River, Rocky River, Calfkiller River, and Cane Creek in Grundy, Warren, Van Buren, and White Counties. Historic fish collection records are sparse for this area. However, considering the extent of the fish's preferred habitat (slow to moderate current areas with sand and fine gravel substrates [Layman 1991]), which was inundated by Great Falls reservoir in the 1910s, the species was once more likely distributed within this portion of the Caney Fork system than available records indicate. The belief that the species has undergone a range reduction is also supported by Starnes and Etnier (1980).
In 1991, Layman (1991 and 1993) surveyed the Caney Fork River system above and below Great Falls. He found the fish restricted to isolated populations in short reaches of four rivers - Cane Creek, Van Buren County; Collins River, Warren and Grundy Counties; Rocky River, Van Buren County; and upper Caney Fork River, White County. Layman (1991) estimated that the bluemask darter currently inhabits about 1500 meters (500 feet) of Cane Creek, 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the Collins River, 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) of the Rocky River, and 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of the upper Caney Fork River.
The species was historically taken from two sites in the Calfkiller River, White County. However, Layman (1991) made collections at both of these historic collection sites and four other Calfkiller River sites, but no specimens were taken. It is believed that the species may now be extirpated from this river. The fish was also not taken (Layman 1991) in collections made in other Caney Fork tributaries - Barrens Fork River, Falling Water River, Charles Creek, Laurel Creek, Hickory Creek,Town Creek, and Mountain Creek.
Conservation Fisheries has been contracted by the USFWS Cookeville office in conjunction with TVA to embark on a restoration of the Bluemask Darter into the Calfkiller River. In 2013 CFI collected 30 Bluemask Darters from the Collins River, TN as breeding stock. CFI successfully propagated the Bluemask Darter in 2014 and 2015. We are looking forward to producing this fish for stocking in the years to come.