“This fish is a significant find because it tells us that our work to preserve and protect the Tennessee River Watershed is paying off,” said Jeff Simmons, a TVA aquatic biologist who helped make the discovery. “Percina apina can only live in the cleanest of streams.”
Simmons named the fish after the clean, clear water where it lives — “apina” is a Greek word that means “clean” or “without dirt,” just like the silt-free substrates that the fish requires to live, hunting aquatic insect larvae like blackfly, caddisfly, mayfly and stonefly. The small fish, which reaches 4 to 6 inches, plays a significant role in the surrounding environment.
“Though you might not see it right away, there is a web of other species that are interconnected to it,” Simmons explained. “Keeping our water clean, keeping this fish alive — this is our natural heritage. This is what we have to pass down to the next generation.”
The TVA assesses more than 700 water quality sites throughout the Tennessee Valley, creating scorecards for each one. The Tennessee River is one of the most biodiverse river systems in North America, home to about 230 species of fish and 100 species of mussels. The clean water that makes this diversity possible is also an important economic driver to the region, with a 2017 University of Tennessee study finding that recreation on TVA reservoirs contributes about $12 billion per year to the regional economy.