Cape Fear Shiner

Illustration: Duane Raver
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Scientific Name: Notropis mekistocholas

Classification: Federally Endangered, State Endangered

Abundance: Extremely rare; found only in the Cape Fear River basin
in the North Carolina Piedmont

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Cape Fear shiners (Photo: Brena Jones/NCWRC)

Cape Fear shiner (Photo: Brena Jones/NCWRC)


Additional Information

The Cape Fear Shiner is an imperiled minnow species endemic (found nowhere else in the world) to the Cape Fear River basin in the North Carolina piedmont. Populations are currently limited by dams restricting movement and degraded water quality impacting survival and health. It is a small minnow, growing to a length between 1.78 and 2.5 inches. The top and sides of the fish are golden and the belly of the fish is white. Scales are outlined in black. A black lateral stripe extends the length of each side nearly to fish's tail. Above this stripe is a light colored stripe. During the spring spawning season, the golden body color intensifies in males while females take on a silvery cast. Males also develop numerous small tubercles on the upper body from the snout to the dorsal fin during the spawning season. This species can be distinguished from similar species by the black lower lips and nearly horizontal position of the mouth.

The Cape Fear shiner is found most often in shallow, rocky shoals within main river channels. In winter months, they may migrate into smaller tributary streams. The most obvious features of their preferred habitat are large islands and bars of water willow, Justica americana, or other aquatic vegetation. Cape Fear Shiners prefer clean substrates composed of gravel, cobble and boulders. 

They usually spawn around May 15 when water temperatures reach approximately 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Based upon the presence of some smaller Cape Fear Shiners during the early fall, there may be a secondary spawning during the late summer. The species appears to survive about 2 to 3 years in the wild. Its distribution by county is: Cape Fear River Basin: Chatham Co. (Rocky River, including Bear Creek; Deep River, and Haw River); Lee Co. (Deep River), Moore Co. (Deep River, including Falls Creek), Randolph Co. (Deep River , including Fork Creek).

The Cape Fear Shiner is a federally and state-listed endangered species and protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.  No Cape Fear Shiners can be collected or killed without a permit from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The removal of the Carbonton Dam on the Deep River in 2005 allowed disparate populations of Cape Fear Shiners to reconnect and opened up several miles of habitat that were previously inaccessible to these fish.  In 2007, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission completed a status survey for the Cape Fear Shiner within its historic range. In 2009, the WRC also surveyed riverine and riparian habitat in the Deep River to identify potential areas for protection or restoration.