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Knoxville – A University of Tennessee biologist who helped discover the snail darter thinks it may be time for the tiny fish to come off the endangered species list.

Dr. David Etnier found snail darters living in the Little Tennessee River in 1973, at the site of the proposed Tellico Dam Project.

That discovery led to the United States Supreme Court reaffirming the Endangered Species Act, but Congress authorized the construction of the dam, which destroyed the snail darter-s only known breeding grounds.

Etnier said new studies have indicated that the fish is making a comeback.

“There may be economic or practical reasons for leaving it on the endangered list,” Etnier said, “but biologically, it would appear to me that the snail darter is no longer threatened.”

In the late 1970s, biologists estimated there were nearly 5,000 snail darters in existence. Etnier said they may now easily number 100,000.

“We transplanted additional populations of the fish in the Holston and French Broad Rivers, east of the Tennessee River,” Etnier said, “and those populations have grown with the Tennessee Valley Authority pumping oxygen into the rivers to improve the water quality.”

Since 1973, 27 species have been removed from the federal endangered species list.