The arrival of the year 2000 was supposed to have produced a variety of calamities. Among those predicted, one of the worst, especially for fishermen, was the predicted loss of the southern Appalachian brook trout, the state's only native salmonid, says the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).
"Fishery biologists back in the 1970's had begun to predict that brook trout in the Southeast might be gone by the early 21st century if the trends apparent at that time continued," said Jim Habera, TWRA wild trout biologist. "As it turned out, the dour Y2K scenarios never really materialized and it is quite clear that the demise of brook trout, particularly here in Tennessee, is nowhere in sight."
According to surveys conducted in the 1990's, brook trout currently inhabit almost 150 miles of water in 106 streams in East Tennessee outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This represents close to 1/4 of all wild trout water outside the Park.
"About two-thirds of the brook trout resource is located in Carter and Johnson counties and 70% occurs within the Cherokee National Forest," said Habera. "Genetic analyses have shown that about 55% of all Tennessee brook trout populations outside the Park are native, southern Appalachian fish. Another 15% are descended from stocked fish of northern (hatchery) ancestry and the rest are hybrids. The abundance and distribution of southern Appalachian brook trout are such that no special management of these populations is deemed necessary."
Inventories conducted in the late 1970's and early 1980's identified only 73 viable populations outside the park.
"Seventeen populations represent successful restoration efforts involving Trout Unlimited, U.S. Forest Service, and TWRA," continued Habera. "A brook trout restoration project is currently underway in Short Creek, an Ocoee River tributary in Polk County. Until this effort, Polk County was the only East Tennessee county with wild trout populations that did not include any brook trout."
Another restoration project in Little Jacobs Creek (Sullivan County) is set to begin this year. Future projects are planned to focus on a few larger streams that historically supported brook trout but typically do not contain them now.
Overall, there have been an increase of 33 known brook trout populations and about 52 miles of stream with brook trout populations since 1985.
"Most brook trout populations overlap with either rainbow or brown trout," continued Habera. "It was encroachment by non-native rainbow trout and their apparent competitive superiority that caused the greatest concern with respect to the future survival of brook trout."
However, brook trout in 25 mixed populations (with rainbow trout) sustained no net loss in the amount of stream length they occupied between the 1970's and 1990's. Additionally, brook trout have recently invaded the abundant rainbow trout population in upper Bald River, established themselves, and continue to expand. The same thing has happened in Briar Creek in Washington County after brook trout were reintroduced without removing the rainbows nearly 17 years ago.
Tennessee's brook trout resource has not only been maintained, it has increased since 1985 through many successful restoration efforts and the identification of several new populations.
"Thanks to the many restoration efforts and the heartiness of the species, the status of brook trout in 2000 is better than it has been in many years," concluded Habera. "The 21st century shapes up to be much more promising for brook trout than was most of the 20th."