Thanks to changes in forestry management, a thick canopy of leaves now shades streams that once were uncovered and exposed to the sun. As a result, many creeks that had become too warm are now cool enough to be restocked with brookies, which favor the colder temperatures.
TWRA began the effort to restore brookies to their home in the 1980s. Since 2012, the Aquarium has contributed to this campaign by collecting and spawning adult brood stock, fertilizing the eggs, and raising the fry to a releasable size. After overwintering at the Aquarium’s freshwater science center, conservation biologists and partnering agencies join forces each spring to release the small juveniles into sites where natural or installed barriers such as waterfalls give them the best chance to thrive without competition.
After years of restocking populations in the northern region of the Cherokee National Forest, partners in this program have shifted their focus southward this year. Once experts found its waters to be healthy and free of competition from other trout, the stream selected this year was ready to receive its first class of brookies. This release is the first for this location, which will continue to be restocked until the population in the stream is self-sustaining.
“When we move to a new location like this, it’s a sign that we’re progressing and have had some success in our effort to restore that habitat,” Kuhajda said. “This is sort of a feather in our cap to start a new population in a new drainage system where we haven’t worked before. It’s pretty exciting.”
As adults, the Southern Appalachian brook trout stands out for its bright orange belly, fins with stark white edging, and sides mottled by brilliant dots of gold and crimson. It’s a species whose beauty anglers describe with awe.
More importantly, however, brookies are true-blue Southeasterners, the region’s only native trout species. That fact alone should inspire a desire to see them restored to their homes, said TWRA Regional Fisheries Program Manager Mark Thurman.
“The Southern Appalachian brook trout is definitely part of Tennessee’s heritage,” Thurman said. The biodiversity in this state is incredible, and it’s important for people to recognize that.
“We’re putting a lot of work into keeping this fish out in the landscape.”
The Appalachian Chapter of Trout Unlimited funds the Aquarium’s participation in the restoration of Southern Appalachian brook trout through the sale of special brook trout-themed vanity license plates. Since 2013, Trout Unlimited grants have provided more than $68,000 to fuel the Aquarium’s propagation and release efforts.
In 1989, a sister waterway to the restocked stream was the focus of a restoration effort by Trout Unlimited, TWRA, the Forest Service, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The brood stock whose offspring were released by the Aquarium this year were collected last fall from the nearby stream that was restored decades ago, a reminder that this type of conservation work happens because of long-term commitment from all partners and agencies.
“That’s great because here we see our work from way back paying off,” says Steve Fry, chairman of the conservation committee for the Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited. It’s good to see that the right strain of Southern Appalachian brook trout is going back in this stream again.
We hope some other streams in that watershed will be able to receive Southern Appalachian brook trout in the future.”
The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute is a leader in freshwater science. For more than 20 years, researchers have been working to better understand and protect the Southeast’s abundance of aquatic wildlife. The region’s rich diversity is part of our natural heritage and is a gift to be discovered, appreciated and protected.