Trout Unlimited: Brook trout need help

A report by Trout Unlimited documenting the continued decline of brook trout has given rise to concerns over water quality and invigorated efforts to protect the remaining strongholds of brook trout in WNC.

“Brook trout are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to water quality,” said Gary Berti, Trout Unlimited’s Eastern Brook Trout Campaign Coordinator. “The presence of brook trout in a watershed indicates that water quality is excellent. Declining brook trout populations can provide an early warning that the health of an entire stream, lake or river is at risk.”

The report, “Eastern Brook Trout: Status and Threats,” is the first comprehensive assessment of the status of brook trout in the Eastern United States. Brook trout historically thrived in rivers and streams stretching from Maine to Georgia, but land use pressures have relegated the remaining isolated populations to the headwaters of high elevation streams.

Brook trout populations have been wiped out or greatly reduced throughout more than 80 percent of their historical habitat in North Carolina and Tennessee. Despite this decline, North Carolina can boast the last remaining intact populations of brook trout in the Southeast. These are concentrated on publicly-owned lands in the headwaters of the Little Pigeon River.

“We are currently exploring opportunities for conservation of remaining high-quality habitat, restoration of impaired streams and restoration of Southern Appalachian brook trout populations where appropriate,” said Doug Besler, Regional Research Coordinator with the North Carolina Wildlife Commission. “Our collective challenge is to protect our remaining brook trout habitat and restore populations wherever possible.”

Brook trout have been eliminated from over 35 percent of their historic habitat in North Carolina and Tennessee, and they are greatly reduced in another 47 percent of habitat that formerly supported brook trout.

This assessment represents the first stage of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture’s collaborative efforts to restore brook trout habitat. The Joint Venture was initiated in 2002 as a pilot program of the National Fish Habitat Initiative. Participants include fish and wildlife agencies from 17 states, federal partners, conservation organizations and academic institutions. The results of this assessment will be used to develop state-by-state strategies for brook trout conservation and recovery.

“Brookies are quick to respond to habitat improvements,” said Penn Cox, the brook trout coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s North Carolina Council. “We already are beginning to see the results of our work with state and federal partners. By scaling up these programs throughout the state and region, we will see wild brook trout returning to our streams. And that’s great news for all of us who love to fish locally with our families and friends.”

The full report as well as state-specific data and maps are available at

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