Shenandoah Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative manager for Trout Unlimited, Steve Reeser, district fisheries biologist for the Virginia DGIF and staff members have been working small creeks in the George Washington National Forest armed with electrofishing backpacks, nets, and buckets. The brook trout they were collecting didn’t mind the weather — they are used to cold and wet conditions. These particular brook trout were in for quite an experience on Wednesday, however. They were moving.
As part of a joint project among TU, DGIF and the USFS, these brook trout were being relocated to a stream about 15 miles away that had been identified as suitable brook trout habitat.
Every stream in the Shenandoah and George Washington national forests that meets the criteria for suitable brook trout habitat naturally contains fish. However, somewhere along the line, whether through the acts of man (timbering or mining) or possibly a natural event such as a major flood, brook trout had been extirpated from Passage Creek in Page County where these trout would be relocated.
Living in more than 400 streams throughout Virginia’s mountains, brook trout can be found in thousands of miles of water in Virginia. They need three things to survive: clean, clear and cold water throughout the year, suitable spawning habitat, and food.
Food is generally not the issue, as most streams contain enough macroinvertebrates and minnows to sustain brook trout. Too much silt is the limiting factor for spawning. Streams with enough slope and perennial flow to maintain a rocky bottom are ideal. Streams with ample elevation and shade can stay cold enough throughout the year to maintain brook trout populations.
This relocation project is a great example of the sort of partnership that is crucial for maintaining the native brook trout population, not only in Virginia but across its range. Trout Unlimited, the USFS and DGIF all play significant roles as part of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (a unique partnership among state and federal agencies, regional and local governments, businesses, conservation organizations, academia, scientific societies, and private citizens).
Coffman used EBTJV stream assessment data to identify the portion of Passage Creek that historically should have contained brook trout, but which had been devoid of them in recent history, at least until Wednesday.
“Most of the streams that have the potential for brook trout have them,” Coffman said.
Certainly some of the relocated trout suffered the normal stresses of moving this week, but they should be settled in soon, one hopes in time for the spawn next month and the opportunity to make their mark on a stream that was once their home and now will be again.