Greenside Darter, Matt Thomas photo



Kentucky is home to a total of 248 native fish species with an additional 19 that have been introduced either intentionally (i.e., for sport) or accidentally. Nationwide, Kentucky ranks among the top four states in terms of native freshwater fish diversity. This is due in large part to an abundance of water bodies and wide variety of aquatic habitats across the state – from swift upland streams to large sluggish rivers, oxbow lakes, and wetlands. While approximately 25 species of fish are most frequently caught by anglers either for sport or food, the largest proportion of Kentucky’s fish fauna (80%) includes darters, minnows, suckers, madtoms, smaller sunfishes, and other groups (e.g., lampreys) that are rarely seen by most people.

Redlips Darter

Redlips Darter (Etheostoma maydeni). Photo by Matthew R. Thomas


These fish species have important roles in stream and river ecosystems. They serve as subtle indicators of water quality and the overall health and integrity of aquatic ecosystems. Under Kentucky’s Wildlife Action Plan, 68 native fishes are listed as species of greatest conservation need because they are known to be rare or have experienced recent population declines. Research, survey, and monitoring efforts combined with other conservation actions such as habitat restoration are underway to prevent further imperilment of these species. For additional information on a few of KDFWR’s projects, see links below: