Fish like mine ca­nary

The Times-Tribune - - Op-ed - 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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