WASHINGTON, D.C. — North America’s already embattled native trout populations continue to face serious threats, according to a comprehensive new report released Tuesday by Trout Unlimited.
“The State of the Trout” details the status of 28 separate species and subspecies of trout and char native to the United States. Of those detailed populations, three are already extinct, and more than half of the remaining trout and char populations occupy less than 25 percent of their native waters. While the state of trout in America is tenuous, there are success stories that prove trout recovery is possible. The report lays out a roadmap for that recovery.
Trout Unlimited’s staff of scientists spent more than a year preparing the detailed report with input from TU’s field staff and independent, federal and state fisheries experts. The full report is available in digital form at tu.org.
“Native trout are in trouble in the United States,” said Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited’s president and CEO, in the report’s foreword. “But we are making a difference and with help, involvement and action can promise a future of recovery, not one of loss, for our children.”
Energy development and climate change head a long list of challenges facing trout, which also are under pressure from increased demand on the nation’s water resources, threats from non-native species, and loss and degradation of habitat.
In the Southeast, native brook trout have been impacted by dams and roads that have fractured habitat, by historical logging and agriculture practices, and by competition from introduced brown and rainbow trout.
The invasive hemlock woolly adelgid has caused a widespread die-off of hemlocks, an important riparian tree that provides stream canopy cover, buffering the waters from extreme hot and cold temperatures.
Threats from climate change loom large over populations of Southern Appalachian brook trout. An average temperature increase of just 2.7 degrees – a conservative estimate based on many climate models — would result in a loss of 20 percent of the brook trout habitat in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
“These trout populations are already fragmented,” said Damon Hearne, director of Trout Unlimited’s Southeast Restoration Project. “With reduced ability to seek refuge in colder water, a large percentage of these fish won’t be able to survive the significant increase in temperature we expect to experience from climate change.”
While bringing attention to challenges facing trout, the report highlights many success stories.
The replacement of some poorly designed culverts has created increased connectivity and expanded trout habitat. Liming treatments have helped treat streams impacted by acid rain, if temporarily.
In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a collaborative effort helped eliminate non-native trout from an 8.5-mile stretch of the Lynn Camp Prong of the Little River in Tennessee while restoring the stream’s population of native brook trout.
Nathaniel Gillespie, assistant fisheries program manager for the U.S. Forest Service, praised the report for highlighting the incredible diversity of the country’s heritage of trout species and subspecies, noting the grave loss experienced, and providing guidance on a way forward.
“There is no better species to help guide collaborate ecosystem restoration efforts across the East than the brook trout, whose presence reflects our use of the land, watershed function, our transportation and energy infrastructure, and our water use,” Gillespie said. “This report charts out a logical path to protecting and restoring brook trout across their range.”
In the end, it’s all about hope.
“People who fish are eternal optimists,” Wood said. “Even the most cynical among us, on the last cast of the day, are confident we will catch the biggest fish of the day. That optimism and hope for the future breathes through this report.”