Contact: Thom Benson 423-785-3007
Chattanooga, Tenn. (September 10, 2014) – Researchers at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI) are preparing to release more than 1,100 baby trout they have been rearing in Chattanooga for nearly one year. On Friday, September 12, half of these fish will be carefully boxed up and transported to Hampton Creek near Roan Mountain in Carter County, Tennessee. On Saturday, September 13, the other half will be released into Sycamore Creek in the Cherokee National Forest.
Southern Appalachian Brook Trout (SABT), once abundant in the high elevation mountain streams from Virginia to Georgia, are in need of conservation action. This species is now found in only three percent of their historic range. While this new program is saving a native fish population, it also restores the health of an ecosystem that feeds everything downstream. A robust population of Brook Trout will not only provide recreational opportunities, it also helps rebuild a diverse aquatic community which is vital to the health and economic well-being of the many communities connected to this watershed.
Fortunately this project has had a lot of early success and has quickly grown four-fold. “Last year we successfully pioneered techniques that allowed us to rear 255 Brook Trout for release and this year we’ll release 1,100,” said Dr. Anna George, TNACI director. “Now this research project is moving into a new phase to refine our technique.”
The “urban-raised” fish from TNACI grow up in a recirculating system similar to the exhibits at the Tennessee Aquarium. Water continuously cycles through a series of filters and chillers to ensure both water quality and precise temperatures that are optimal for the animals. In flow-through systems, water from a mountain stream enters and exits the runs where the trout are being raised. Last year’s class was the first to be raised in a recirculating system. “We learned a lot about their spawning habits,” said Kathlina Alford, a TNACI research biologist. “This year we raised more fish at TNACI than in the flow-through systems, probably because our system is more precisely controlled. But, now we really want to study both the survival and growth rates of the fish we are reintroducing in the wild. The whole point of this project is to see what is the best way to restore this species, and that means increasing survival after release is the most important.”
In order to track the trout after being released, each fish had a tiny coded wire tag injected under the skin. Though almost microscopic, each tag is magnetic and can be read by a special hand-held device which will let researchers know the fish is from a hatchery. In addition, each fish received a visible implant elastomer (VIE) tag. “A tiny amount of liquid plastic is injected below the tail of each fish which helps identify which hatchery raised the fish,” said Alford. “Next year, a graduate student from Tennessee Tech University will survey the streams to record and measure the released trout giving us critical information about their survival and growth rates.”
You don’t have to be an angler to appreciate the beauty of Tennessee’s only native trout species. Brook Trout are among the most spectacular fish inhabiting the cool, crystal-clear waters that flow down the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. Tennessee Aquarium guests get close-up views of their bright red fins and bellies, golden markings and tiny, bright pink polka dots while learning about the efforts to save these striking fish.
Long-term conservation projects like the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Program require collaboration to be successful. TNACI researchers are working with partners from Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Tech University, Trout Unlimited, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. By pooling resources and sharing information, a spectacular fish may reclaim its reign in the Southeast. “As a scientist, it’s gratifying to identify a problem and begin working to save a species,” said Alford. “This project will help restore brook trout in our region, possibly for hundreds of years, and that’s really exciting.”