Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Brook trout on decline in eastern USA, study finds

Brook trout on decline in eastern USA, study finds
By Tom Kenworthy, USA TODAY

A three-year study of brook trout populations concludes that the popular sport fish has disappeared or markedly declined in nearly half of the eastern U.S. areas where it once thrived.

The plight of the small, olive green trout is detailed in a report to be released today by a coalition of conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, fish and game departments from 17 states, and universities.

"Brook trout are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to water quality," said Gary Berti of Trout Unlimited in a statement. "Declining brook trout populations can provide an early warning that the health of an entire stream, lake or river is at risk."

Once plentiful in streams and rivers from Maine to South Carolina, brook trout — or "brookies," as they're known to anglers — have been greatly reduced by development in the eastern USA. Large populations remain in just 5% of the areas they inhabited before colonization of the United States, notably in Maine and the mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Virginia.

The detailed report will be used to guide future recovery and conservation efforts aimed at keeping brook trout off the endangered species list, said Chris Wood, vice president for conservation programs for Trout Unlimited.

"The overall intent is to avoid what's happened in the West," where many salmon and trout species are on the endangered list, Wood said.

The assessment is the first project by a coalition of state and federal wildlife agencies and conservation groups that joined in 2001 to protect and restore streams and rivers for fish.

The National Fish Habitat Action Plan is patterned on a similar effort for ducks and other waterfowl begun in the 1980s.

The brook trout study found that the fish have been eliminated from 19% of the territory they once occupied and greatly reduced in an additional 27%.

Brook trout require cold, clean water to survive and are extremely sensitive to water temperatures above 68 degrees, conditions that often occur when stream and river areas are developed or lose shade.

States where brook trout have declined the most include Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina and New Jersey. The report assessed habitat used by both native fish and the offspring of hatchery bred fish stocked in streams.

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