Since 2013, the Tennessee Aquarium has partnered with several organizations to propagate wild Southern Appalachian Brook Trout in an effort to help this beautiful fish reclaim some of its lost territories. On June 5, participants in this program celebrated the release of 280 juvenile trout into the chilly waters of Little Stony Creek in the Cherokee National Forest near Elizabethton, Tennessee.
“They don’t want to be in the really swift water,” says Meredith Harris, a reintroduction biologist at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. “We want to give them the best chance of staying put, spreading out in the creek and finding good food and the resources they need to thrive.”
For more than 130 years, the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout has constantly struggled to survive an ever-mounting combination of mostly human-induced threats. As a result, Tennessee’s only native trout species now occupies less than 15 percent of its historic range.
The Brook Trout’s range extends north into New England and Canada and westward into the Midwest, but the population in Southern Appalachian is genetically distinct. The restoration project aims to safeguard and preserve this unique community as an important component of the region’s natural heritage, says Marcia Carter, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Forest Service.
“I think it’s the prettiest trout that we have,” Carter says. “Brook Trout are the only native trout species in Tennessee, so it’s important for us to maintain good populations to ensure their viability and also to provide recreational fishing for the public.”
The restoration program features the combined effort and resources of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Appalachian Chapter of Trout Unlimited. In the five years since the program’s inception, the Conservation Institute has hatched and released more than 1,400 of these distinctively olive-bodied, red-finned fish and pioneered new techniques for raising them.
“Working with the Tennessee Aquarium has been awesome since they provide facilities to raise the trout, so we can have even more fish to stock and have a faster restoration time,” Carter says. “Getting to work here with our partners doing Brook Trout restoration is just a happy day for me.”