The Tangerine Darter demands notice in our rivers. Its dramatic coloration and size is a majestic thing to see. It is found locally in tributaries of the Tennessee River, including the Emory, Hiwassee, Little River, Little Pigeon, and Tellico Rivers. In these rivers it has very specific habitat and spawning needs. Although they are a fairly common species, their range is limited to clear, cool streams of the Southern Appalachians.
CFI started working with the Tangerine Darter in 2003 when we partnered with Joyce Combs through UTK. Joyce was working with the Pigeon River Recovery Project to restore species diversity above the dam area that was lost during poor paper plant practices throughout the 20th century. In the 1990s the paper plant was bought out by the employees and their effluent practices changed to help the river. One of the species that had not been seen above the dam was the Tangerine Darter, so CFI stepped in to see if we could spawn them. In 2005 - 2007 CFI had limited success spawning these large darters, and we released what we produced above the dam in Pigeon River. Our practices working with larger darters have greatly improved since then.
In 2013 efforts to propagate the Tangerine Darter for Pigeon River restoration efforts were revisited. Releases of Tangerine Darters have been made in 2014 and 2015 from propagation efforts at CFI. We hope to continue refining our propagation protocols and restore these to the lower Pigeon River.