He collected over 300 fish specimens and cowrote “The Fishes of Tennessee” with former student Dr. Wayne Starnes. UT describes Etnier’s collection as the beginning of the University of Tennessee Etnier Ichthyological Collection, which bears his name and houses 450,000 fish specimens.
He found a snail darter above the proposed Tellico Dam in 1973, which delayed but did not prevent the dam’s construction.
J.R. Shute, co-founder and board member of Conservation Fisheries Inc., shared his thoughts in a Facebook post and an interview with Hellbender Press.
Shute studied under Etnier from 1981 to 1984. He called his teacher the greatest contributor to “fish knowledge” in the Southeast and complimented him for his “wonderful dry sense of humor.”
Shute plans to receive the Conservationist of the Year Award in Nashville from the Tennessee Wildlife Commission on behalf of his mentor on May 19.
“He’s one of the last great naturalists, at least as far as ones associated with universities,” Shute said.
While he said that his teacher is best known for the snail darter, Shute said Etnier’s students are a major legacy, too.
“He has left behind a legacy of hundreds of students and their students,” Shute said, adding many went on to work at state agencies or teach across the country. “He was a great friend and he’s going to be missed by so many people.”