Despite their undeniable beauty, the Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout found in Southeastern streams are really just gilded aquatic invaders. Rainbows are native to waterways west of the Rockies, and Browns arrived in the late 19th century. Since their introduction to the Eastern U.S these trout have often out-competed Brook Trout. Consequently, the modern Southern Appalachian Brook Trout only occupies a fraction — less than 15 percent — of its historical range in Tennessee.
Through the sale of special TU license plates the TU Appalachian Chapter has supported efforts by the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute to better understand and restore the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout to its native range.
Recently, Steve Fry, the chapter’s president, presented a check for $7,500 to Aquarium Vice President of Conservation Science and Education Dr. Anna George. This grant is TU’s third contribution to the Institute’s ongoing research into and propagation of these fish.
“The biologists here are the experts,” Fry says. “They ensure these fish have the correct food, water conditions and temperatures. That’s their thing. We know they’ll do it right.”
The TU grant will be used to fund the rearing of Southern Appalachian Brook Trout at the Institute’s new freshwater science facility. The fish raised through this program will be released into Stoney Creek, a waterway about 15 miles northeast of Johnson City, Tennessee.
Several years ago, scientists at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute pioneered techniques to rear Southern Appalachian Brook Trout in a recirculating system. Using a closed system indoors has several advantages over outdoor flow-through systems, especially when it comes to harsh weather conditions, Fry says.
“Last year, we had problems with a historic drought and the water temperature got too hot,” Fry says, referencing conditions at an outdoor hatchery. “The system wasn’t set up for the heat because the water comes from a creek, and the creek got too hot, so they couldn’t raise fish last year.”
Despite a range that extends north into the Great Lakes, Canada and New England, the southern strain of the Brook Trout is genetically distinct from its northern cousins. A 2014 grant from Trout Unlimited also helped fund efforts by scientists at the Conservation Institute to conduct genetic testing on populations of Southern Appalachian Brook Trout released into another stream.
The ongoing support of Trout Unlimited is bolstering a multi-faceted approach to understanding and conserving this vitally important native species, says ichthyologist Dr. Bernie Kuhajda, the Institute’s manager of science programs.
“With the support we’re getting from the Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited, we’re able to do some scientific investigations into why Brook Trout do what they do but also help to improve the status of a population,” Kuhajda says. “We’re coming at it both from the scientific side and the management side.