During the last few decades beginning in the 1980’s, partnerships between state and federal agencies along with conservation organizations have worked together to restore Southern Appalachian strains of brook trout in the Southern Appalachians. Although by the 1970’s Southern Appalachian strain brook trout had dissapeared from the Nolichucky watershed, today 7% of the historical brook trout habitat in the watershed now contains SA brook trout. Restoration is a slow and labor intensive process and it can take decades to restore only a few streams. It is likely that similar challenges are being realized throughout the primary river basin watersheds in the Southern Appalachians.
The work to restore the Southern Appalachian brook trout is hugely important. As an indigenous species it is our regions only native salmonid. The recreational opportunities it affords sportsmen from all over the United States and the economic benefits to the area are many. It’s contribution currently and in the future as a valuable water quality indicator in our upper high elevation watersheds is significant.
Compared to the size of the Southern Appalachian Region, viable Southern Appalachian brook trout populations that currently exist throughout the Southern Appalachians are few and fragmented. It is important to consider options that have the potential to increase population distribution and reduce fragmentation. This increase in distribution from both a regional perspective as well as by watershed, prepares the sub-species to be in a better position to survive current and future threats. Increasing population distribution for recreational and economic purposes aside, as threats such as drought, floods, climate change, acid precipitation, angling pressure, exotic salmonid encroachment on stressed SA populations occurs, the means to mitigate these impacts will be important.
In 1991 the Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Hatchery was constructed as part of a cooperative pilot project between the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Trout Unlimited, and the U.S. Forest Service to determine if Southern Appalachian Brook Trout could be spawned, hatched, reared, and stocked as fingerlings to restore Southern Appalachian brook trout populations. Funded with a grant from the FishAmerica Foundation, the hatchery was completed in the summer of 1991 and placed into operation that Fall. In 1991/92 approximately 700 fingerlings were produced from 45 adults and stocked into Meadow Branch in April of 1992. During 1992 and 1993, the first captive propagation protocols for culturing Southern Appalachian brook trout were produced by TWRA staff when 40 Southern Appalachian brook trout adults were successfully spawned and 102 fingerlings were stocked into Sycamore Creek in April 1993.
A repeat stocking of 703 fingerlings into Sycamore Creek in 1994, created the foundation for the restoration of Southern Appalachian brook trout in Sycamore Creek. Today, the stream continues to support a healthy wild naturally reproducing population of Southern Appalachian brook trout that did not exist prior to this project.
Next: Building on Success – A Long Term, Economical Proposal For Conserving And Restoration Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Populations.