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Abstract

We summarize a range of topics related to the status of Virginia’s freshwater fishes, their reflection of environmental quality, and their contribution to human wellbeing. Since 1994 the list of extant Virginia fishes has lengthened from 210 species to 227 species, mostly due to taxonomic reorganizations. Virginia’s list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need currently contains 96 fish species, predominated by darters (32 species) and minnows (28 species). Increasing trends in species rarity and threats to fishes suggest that Virginia’s aquatic environment is becoming less hospitable for fishes. Prevailing anthropogenic threats to fishes include agriculture, urban development, mineral extraction, forestry, and power generation; emerging threats include introduction of nonnative species and climate change. Agency assessments of Virginia’s streams, rivers, and lakes indicate that over 40% of them are impaired and that dozens of these waterbodies have fishes that, if consumed by people, contain harmful levels of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls. Multiple state agencies are responsible for managing Virginia’s freshwaters and fishes to achieve objectives related to recreation, conservation, and environmental health. We close with a discussion of the challenges and opportunities associated with conserving Virginia’s diverse fish fauna and identify several research, management, and outreach actions that may enhance conservation effectiveness.

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