Skip to main content

Discovering and Preserving our Most Imperiled Aquatic Biodiversity with Conservation Fisheries (ft. J.R. Shute and Pat Rakes)

September 28, 2021
Barren’s Topminnow (Hatchery Photo from CFI)


Childhoods spent exploring creeks, streams, and ponds inspired a lifelong dedication to protect aquatic biodiversity for JR Shute and Pat Rakes. Together they founded Conservation Fisheries a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of aquatic biodiversity in streams and rivers, particularly in the Southeast. In today’s episode of River Talks, JR and Pat join Cumberland River Compact Program Manager Jed Grubbs to share their wealth of natural history knowledge about the rare and imperiled species that call our waters home. Together they share why our region is so biodiverse, the unique life history of freshwater mussels, and the delicate dance between the endangered Barren’s Topminnows and the pervasive mosquito fish. Plus, you will hear about how an upcoming stream restoration project with the Cumberland River Compact is protecting crucial habitat for the Barren’s Topminnow in Coffee County.

Subscribe to River Talks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google.

About Conservation Fisheries:

Conservation Fisheries, INC is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization in Knoxville, Tennessee. Founded in 1986 and incorporated in 1992, CFI is dedicated to the preservation of aquatic biodiversity in our streams and rivers. Over nearly 30 years they have developed techniques to propagate more than 65 nongame fish, including some of the most imperiled species in the southeastern United States. They were the first facility in the Southeast to propagate rare, non-game fishes for recovery work.

Their primary goal is to restore fish populations that have been eliminated because of pollution or habitat destruction. However, they also produce many rare or difficult-to-collect species for other purposes related to aquatic conservation.

Pat Rakes: Pat has been studying rare fishes since he began his master’s degree project at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1982 studying the distribution and life history of the Barrens Topminnow. This work laid the foundation for efforts that continue today with ark maintenance of BTM populations at CFI. Pat and J.R. founded CFI just after finishing graduate school projects and both are in awe of how it has grown since then.

J.R. Shute: J.R. has been studying rare and imperiled fishes in the southeastern U.S. for more than 35 years. J.R. and his wife Peggy moved to Knoxville in 1981 to pursue graduate degrees in Zoology at the University of Tennessee under the direction of the famed Dr. David Etnier. CFI, under the direction of J.R. and Pat, has partnered with many federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and private individuals to increase our ecological knowledge for more than 60 species of rare and under-appreciated southeastern freshwater fishes. With their partners, their efforts have contributed to the improved status of many, with the eventual goal of removal from Endangered Species Act protection seeming closer to reality. For other species, their pro-active projects, with partner support, likely prevented the need for federal endangered species listing.

In this Podcast:

  • How snorkeling in freshwater is used to study imperiled species.
  • Why Tennessee is so biodiverse.
  • Threats to biodiversity including dams and sediment
  • The fascinating life history of freshwater mussels.
  • The impact of mosquito fish introduction on Barren’s Topminnows
  • Plus other cool biodiversity tidbits, like the blind cavefish!

Learn more about the Resources Mentioned: