Blackside Dace

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Blackside Dace

Phoxinus cumberlandensis

ListedJune 12, 1987
FamilyCyprinidae (Minnows)
DescriptionSmall, green-gold minnow with a black lateral stripe and bright yellow fins.
HabitatWell developed riparian areas with undercut stream banks, large rocks, and deep pools.
FoodAlgae, detritus, insects.
ReproductionSpawns in May to June.
ThreatsStream siltation, competition with the redbelly dace.
RangeKentucky, Tennessee


The blackside dace, Phoxinus cumberlandensis, is a small fish less than 3 in (8 cm) long with a single black lateral stripe, a green-gold back with black specks, and a pale or sometimes brilliant scarlet belly. The fins are often bright yellow with metallic silver surrounding the base of the pelvic and pectoral fins.


The life history of this species has not been well-documented. It spawns in May and June in nests that have been constructed or adopted. One nest that was observed occurred in a shallow pit composed of gravel, with fine gravel for spawning. The blackside dace has been observed grazing on rocks, and it is thought that it feeds on algae, detritus, and sometimes insects.


The blackside dace prefers well-developed riparian areas with undercut stream banks, large rocks, and deep pools. The largest populations occur in areas where the banks are lined with lush vegetation and the canopy cover exceeds 70%. The plant life helps to maintain cool water temperatures and remove silt from areas downstream of the riffles. The stream current must be swift enough to sweep away silt.


Because this fish was only recently discovered, its historic range is not known. However, it may have been extirpated from as many as 52 streams within Kentucky and Tennessee before it was discovered and described.

The blackside dace is found in small streams in the upper Cumberland River basin, primarily above Cumberland Falls, in Pulaski, Laurel, McCreary, Whitley, Knox, Bell, Harlan, and Letcher Counties in Kentucky; and Scott, Campbell, and Claiborne Counties in Tennessee. In spite of its seeming widespread distribution, it now occupies little more than 14 mi (23 km) of about 30 streams.


Siltation caused by coal mining, timber harvesting, acid mine drainage, siltation from strip mining, agriculture, and road-construction runoff are responsible for the decline of this fish. Many of the streams, which continue to support blackside dace, remain threatened by these activities. The blackside dace also faces competition from an introduced dacethe southern redbelly dace (P. erythrogaster )which may have displaced it in warmer waters within its range.

Conservation and Recovery

The states of Kentucky and Tennessee prohibit taking this fish for any purpose. Some conservation measures include translocating wild individuals, restricting timber harvesting, herbicide and pesticide use, controlling pollution and road maintenance practices, reducing stream bank modification and channelization, and reintroducing captive bred fish to suitable habitat. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes that each of the 24 streams providing habitat for the dace receives some kind of protection, either through public agencies or private conservation organization ownership. Noticeable improvements have been made in the coal-related problems, and the quality of the substrates has improved as well throughout the Cumberland River Basin. The dace has successfully recolonized in some stream reaches within the Basin. Because of the number of populations that are present on public lands, the potential for recovering the species is good. State and federal regulations are in place for expanding the species into new habitats.


Regional Office of Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1875 Century Blvd, Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345


O'Bara, C. J. 1985. "Status Survey of the Blackside Dace (Phoxinus cumberlandensis )." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Asheville, North Carolina.

Starnes, W. C., and D. A. Etnier. 1980. "Fishes." In Enger and Hatcher, eds., Tennessee's Rare Wildlife ; Vol. 1, The Vertebrates. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Tennessee Conservation Department, Knoxville.

Starnes, W. C., and L. B. Starnes. 1978. "A New Cyprinid of the Genus Phoxinus Endemic to the Upper Cumberland River Drainage." Copeia 1978:508-516.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988. "Recovery Plan for the Blackside Dace." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta.