The historic range of the Eastern brook trout in the U.S. stretches from the northern tip of Maine to the high country of northern Georgia, and from Minnesota to the Atlantic. Unfortunately, with the first appearance of Europeans on these shores, the waters that supported brook trout began to suffer from dams, deforestation, and siltation. Add in poor agricultural practices, road building, mine runoff, acid precipitation, and the introduction of exotic species such as brown and rainbow trout, and it’s no surprise Eastern brookies are in trouble.
Changes in land use and management over the last few decades have helped keep many native brook-trout populations from sliding over the edge into extinction, but the species is still far from saved. Formed in 2004 and fully funded by the National Fish Habitat Action Plan in 2006, the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV) comprises public and private entities from Trout Unlimited to 17 state fish-and-wildlife agencies to renowned universities, which have joined together to halt the decline of brook trout and to restore fishable populations.
One of the organization’s first action was commissioning a report, Distribution, Status and Perturbations to Brook Trout within the Eastern United States, which offered a detailed look at the stark realities of the situation:
- Intact stream populations of brook trout (where wild brook trout occupy 90-100% of their historical habitat) exist in only 5% of subwatersheds. Wild stream populations of brook trout have vanished or are greatly reduced in nearly half of subwatersheds.
- The vast majority of historically occupied large rivers no longer support self-reproducing populations of brook trout.
- Brook trout survive almost exclusively as fragmented populations relegated to the extreme headwaters of streams.
- Poor land management associated with agriculture ranks as the most widely distributed impact to brook trout across the eastern range.
- Non-native fish rank as the largest biological threat to brook trout. Intact subwatersheds of wild brook trout in lakes and ponds are almost exclusively located in Maine, but self-reproducing populations remain in some lakes and ponds in New York, New Hampshire and Vermont.
- More data collection is needed to determine the status of brook trout in various parts of the eastern range, particularly in Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
The EBTJV is dedicated to reversing the course of the brook-trout decline by coordinating efforts that build private and public partnerships to improve brook trout habitat. For more information about the health of brook-trout populations, visit easternbrooktrout.org. There you can read the entire assessment report, state-by-state evaluations, as well as the Conservation Strategies for each state. The Trout Unlimited site also has a section on conservation efforts to save Eastern brook trout.