New brook trout life for Virginia’s Passage Creek

By Mark Taylor

NEW MARKET, Va. — When it comes to restoring populations of trout and salmon, Trout Unlimited has a pretty simple philosophy: Take care of the habitat and the fish will take care of themselves.

Our history is full of success stories of imperiled fish populations rebounding when provided with a habitat nudge, be it improved stream conditions or improved access to habitat by removing or repairing barriers such as dams or perched culverts.

But that approach needs an important thing to work: a seed population.

Wild Brook Trout Introduction on Passage Creek

That didn’t exist when Seth Coffman started looking at Passage Creek, a small stream in the headwaters of Virginia’s Shenandoah River.

Coffman, who manages TU’s work in the Shenandoah headwaters, came upon Passage Creek while looking for streams that could benefit from restoration work — in this case, reconnecting stream miles by removing an ancient weir dam and also construction of some simple in-stream structures to create better fish-holding pools.

For one reason or another — perhaps damage from long-ago logging operations or maybe a devastating flood or drought — the stream didn’t have any brook trout.

Teaming with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Forest Service, TU managed a modest restoration effort utilizing $15,000 in funding from fees collected from a permit required in Virginia of anglers and hunters who utilize the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

Once the work was completed, the next step was to get some trout back into the stream which, due to its high elevation, be resilient to the potential impacts of warming temperatures. That we can sustain brook trout populations is critical as Virginia’s native brook trout footprint has already been shrinking due to development and other man-made causes.

Hatchery-raised fish were not an option.

Instead, Coffman and several staffers from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries spent a few hours on a recent rainy morning collecting wild native brook trout from two streams not far from Passage Creek. Both had been found to have robust populations of Virginia’s only native trout so were a good choice to provide the fish for reintroduction.

The team measured and weighed the small brook trout and also took a small clip from a fin from each fish for DNA sampling before putting the roughly 150 fish in an aerated tank for the short drive to their new home.

At the Passage Creek restoration site the team members hauled the fish from the truck to newly formed pools. Releasing the fish took far less time than collecting them had.

Steve Reeser, the DGIF’s head fisheries biologist for the region, said the agency has been involved in several similar efforts to re-establish populations of native brook trout that have, for one reason or another, blinked out.

All previous efforts have been successful, Reeser said. Hopes are high that the latest effort will be as well, adding a few more precious miles to Virginia’s wild brook trout water.

Mark Taylor is Trout Unlimited’s eastern communications director. He lives in Roanoke, Va., in the heart of Appalachian native brook trout country.




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