North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Cape Fear Shiner

Scientific Name: Notropis mekistocholas

Classification: Federally Endangered, State Endangered


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.

The Cape Fear Shiner is a small minnow, growing to a length between 45 and 65 mm. The dorsal and lateral portions of the fish are golden and the ventral portion is white. Scales are outlined in black. A black lateral stripe extends the length of each side to the caudal peduncle. Above this stripe is a light colored stripe. During the spring spawning season, the golden body color is intensified 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.


Distribution by County: 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). N

OTE: All headwater areas that flow into these occupied habitats should receive special management.

Habitat Preferences
The Cape Fear Shiner is most often found 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, Justicia americana, or other instream vegetation. This species prefers clean substrates composed of gravel, cobble, and boulders.

Dams and their associated reservoirs are major threats to this species. The reservoirs eliminate preferred habitats of the Cape Fear Shiner, and they fragment populations, thus increasing the chances for local extirpations.

Life History
Spawning occurs around May 15 when water temperatures reach 19 degrees (C). Based upon the presence of some smaller Cape Fear Shiners during the early fall, there may be a secondary spawning during the late summer. This species appears to survive about 2-3 years in the wild.

Protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.  No Cape Fear shiners can be collected or killed without a permit from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and the US 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.