The Times-Tribune

Fish like mine canary

- BY KATHRYN RESHETILOF­F GUEST COLUMNIST

“A wild trout in its native habitat is a compact example of the Earth working well.” Christophe­r Camuto

The brook trout is a small, brilliantl­y colored freshwater fish native to clear, cold streams in the headwaters of the Bay watershed and the state fish of New York, Pennsylvan­ia, Virginia and West Virginia.

These fish thrive in clear, silt-free, well-shaded freshwater streams with numerous pools and a substrate made of mixed gravel, cobble and sand. Because brook trout are not tolerant of water temperatur­es above 75 degrees, they rarely are found in developed areas.

They will eat whatever they can find, including aquatic insects, land insects that fall into the water, small crayfish and even minnows.

Brook trout spawn in autumn, mainly in October to November. The female deposits eggs, which the male then fertilizes. During spawning, the lower flanks of males become brilliant orange, and older males may develop a slightly hooked lower jaw.

The female covers the fertilized eggs with gravel. The eggs incubate through the winter and hatch in early spring. Brook trout mature in two to three years and live about six years. Most grow no more than 9–10 inches. A 12-inch brook trout is rare and considered a real trophy.

Brook trout have always been a prized game fish, and are an especially popular catch for fly fishermen.

Brook trout are also very significan­t biological­ly. Because they require pristine, stable habitat with high water quality, brook trout are indicators of a stream’s biological integrity.

Urbanizati­on affects brook trout through the loss of streamside vegetation and shading, increased sedimentat­ion, reduced flow, increased high-flow events, changes in the makeup of stream beds and increased impervious surface.

Agricultur­e impacts to brook trout population­s are similar to those of urbanizati­on. Livestock can pollute water and damage stream banks, increasing the sediments that enter waterways.

Mining impacts brook trout population­s through acid mine drainage, hydrologic­al changes and habitat degradatio­n. Nonnative fish, such as brown trout, compete for food and habitat. Brook trout population­s can also become isolated because of physical barriers like dams. This decreases genetic diversity and threatens survival.

Recognizin­g the decline in this region, the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture formed in 2004. This partnershi­p of state and federal agencies, regional and local government­s, businesses, conservati­on organizati­ons, academia, scientific societies and private citizens is working to protect, restore and enhance brook trout population­s and their habitats.

Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture works on brook trout restoratio­n and conservati­on projects, restoring brook trout habitat, removing dams and other blockages and promoting livestock fencing. The partnershi­p is 370 agencies and organizati­ons from Maine to Georgia.

From 2004 through 2015, Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture worked to remove 72 dams and barriers, which opened more than 200 miles of rivers and restored more than 200 miles and nearly 500 acres of rivers and streams for wild brook trout.

These efforts not only help brook trout but provide economic benefits by providing buffers against flooding, increasing fishing and boating and increasing property values. Visit the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, easternbro­oktrout.org.

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