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Missouri Cave Fish|Proposed for Listing

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to protect the grotto sculpin as an endangered species, and to designate above- and below-ground critical habitat for it under the Endangered Species Act. The action is part of the agency's effort to implement a 2011 court-approved work plan that resolves a series of lawsuits on the USFWS's ESA Listing Program, the agency said in a press release.

The small cave-dwelling fish, which lives only in Perry County, Missouri, is "the top predator in its cave habitat" and is therefore at risk from the bioaccumulation of contaminants from pollution, the action states.

The sculpin's home is riddled with hundreds of caves and thousands of sinkholes, so pollutants and other substances quickly permeate the underground waterways, according to the agency's statement. "Biologists have documented two mass die-offs in the cave systems in the past decade due to pollution at a single source entering groundwater," said the statement.

The little fish was first identified as a candidate species in 2002 and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for its listing in 2004. Despite eight notices of review between 2004 and 2011 that gave the fish a listing priority number of 2, signifying "imminent threats of a high magnitude," the fish had not moved closer to listing status, according to the action.

The extent of the species' range is not known because the cave systems can not be fully accessed and the potential caves, springs and surface streams have not been surveyed, the action states. However, the USFWS has proposed "36 square miles of underground aquatic habitat in recharge areas plus 19 miles of surface stream."

The agency seeks information and comments and plans a public meeting in October.

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