The Trout Unlimited vanity license plate. (Photo: Contributed)

Despite their beauty, rainbow trout and brown trout are actually invaders in southeastern streams. The rainbow trout is native to waterways west of the Rockies, being introduced to the eastern U.S. in the 1930s, and the brown trout arrived with German immigrants in the late 1880s. As the only species native to the waterways of southern Appalachia, the brook trout is often outcompeted by the rainbows and browns and now occupies less than 15 percent of its historical range in Tennessee.

The Appalachian chapter of Trout Unlimited, through the sale of vanity license plates, has been able to support efforts by the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and its partners to better understand and restore the southern Appalachian brook trout to its native range.

Steve Fry, president of the Appalachian chapter of Trout Unlimited, recently presented a check for $7,500 to Tennessee Aquarium Vice President of Conservation Science and Education Dr. Anna George. This is the third contribution by Trout Unlimited to the institute’s research into and propagation of brook trout, which is a popular target of anglers and readily identifiable by its speckled patterning and white-rimmed red fins.

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The Trout Unlimited grant will fund the rearing of southern Appalachian brook trout at the institute’s new freshwater science facility. The fish raised in the program will later be released into Stoney Creek, located about 15 miles northeast of Johnson City, Tennessee.

“The biologists here are the experts,” Fry said. “They’ll ensure these fish have the correct food, water conditions and temperatures. That’s their thing. We know they’ll do it right.”

Scientists at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute pioneered techniques to raise brook trout in a closed indoor recirculating system, which has several advantages over outdoor flow-through systems, especially in harsh weather conditions.

“Last year, we had problems with a historic drought, and the water temperature got too hot,” Fry said of conditions at an outdoor hatchery. “The system wasn’t set up for the heat because the water comes from a creek, and the creek got too hot, so they couldn’t raise fish last year.”

The southern strain of brook trout is genetically distinct from its northern cousins. A 2014 Trout Unlimited grant helped scientists at the institute conduct genetic testing on populations of southern Appalachian brook trout that were released into another stream.

Institute manager of science programs Dr. Bernie Kuhajda said:

With the support we’re getting from the Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited, we’re able to do some scientific investigations into why brook trout do what they do, but also help to improve the status of a population. We’re coming at it both from the scientific side and the management side. Trout Unlimited are very serious about trying to understand everything we can about southern Appalachian brook trout. The state of Tennessee, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and nongovernmental organizations like the Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited are very instrumental in trying to bring these fishes back to somewhat where they were before settlement.

Learn more the Appalachian chapter of Trout Unlimited here.

Steve Fry, president of the Appalachian chapter of Trout Unlimited, presents a check to the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. Pictured (from left to right) are Steve Fry; Dr. Bernie Kuhajda, manager of science programs; Dr. Anna George, vice president of conservation science and education; Shawna Mitchell, science coordinator; and Meredith Harris, reintroduction biologist. (Photo: Contributed)
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