Smokies Opens Park Streams to Brook Trout Fishing

A big story for GRSM fisheries…thanks to all who helped us with the brook trout study, restoring brook trout, and providing all the other information necessary to be able to make the decision to open the fishery. Matt Kulp Fishery Biologist Great Smoky Mountains National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park News Release Immediate Release Contact: Bob Miller Date: March 21, 2006 865/436-1207 Smokies Opens Park Streams to Brook Trout Fishing For the first time in over 30 years anglers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be allowed to catch and keep brook trout under new experimental Park fishing regulations that take affect April 15. Since 1976 the National Park Service has allowed anglers to fish for non-native rainbow and brown trout, but they have been prohibited from possessing the Park’s native brook, or “speckled” trout, or from fishing in over 150 miles of Park streams where “brookies” predominate. Rainbows and browns were stocked in the Park in the early 20th century after destructive logging practices nearly wiped out the native brook trout. Biologists in the early ‘70’s were convinced that brook trout were systematically losing range to the non-native fish and predicted that, unless measures were taken, the brook trout would only be found upstream of natural barriers by the year 2000. Park managers also believed that fishing pressure was further reducing brook trout densities. In response to these concerns managers closed the Park to brook trout fishing in 1976 and initiated brook trout restoration projects in select streams. Thirty years later Park fisheries biologists have found that “brookies” are able to co-exist with the non-native trout in 69 miles of Park streams. Park fisheries managers have successfully restored 17 miles of stream to pure brook trout population using a combination of electro-fishing and through the use of chemicals to remove non-native trout from steam segments that lie above waterfalls and other barriers that prevent upstream movement of fish. After over 25 years of monitoring trout and non-game populations in fished vs. closed streams, Park biologists had observed that natural occurrences such as floods and droughts were the major force behind changes in fish populations in both open and closed streams. They suspected that allowing angling for brook trout would have no measurable impact on either their numbers or their average size. In 2002 Park biologists tested that hypothesis by experimentally opening eight streams (4 in TN, 4 in NC) to fishing and harvest for 3 years under the normal GRSM fishing regulations (i.e. 5 fish per day limit, 7-inch minimum size, and single hook artificial lures only). Each stream that was open had a nearby control stream which remained closed. Biologists analyzed population data within each stream (both open and closed) for three years prior to and three years after brook trout fishing was opened. The study found there were no significant differences in brook trout density or the number of legal brook trout brook trout in any stream opened to brook trout fishing during the study period. Variation which did occur was attributed to natural variation and was not related to open vs. closed. In interviews conducted during the experiment over 84% of anglers said they were moderately to extremely pleased with the brook trout fishing opportunity. The largest segment of the anglers (25-27%) cited the opportunity to catch a brook trout as the main reason for fishing that particular stream that day. Anglers caught an average of 5-11 fish per trip, but less than 33% of anglers kept the legal brook trout they caught. “Given that we could find no ecological benefit to prohibiting anglers from taking brook trout,” said Park Supervisory Fisheries Biologist, Steve Moore, “and the opportunity to offer anglers a very enjoyable experience, Park management has decided to open nearly all our streams to fishing.” “So on April 15,” Moore concluded, “All but a handful of the over 700 miles of Park streams will be opened to fishing as part of an experimental regulation to allow additional time to monitor impacts of fishing activity. “A few short stream segments will still be closed during active brook trout restoration projects. This spring, for example, parts of Sams Creek, Bear Creek, and Indian Flats Prong Streams, which have been recently restored, will remain closed while those populations continue to rebuild to carrying capacity. Once these streams reach carrying capacity, they will be reopened to fishing as well.” Park managers say that the experimental monitoring period will provide them additional time to be sure that the changes in use do not have unexpected and negative affects on brook trout. Managers will also need the time to complete a required federal rule-making process needed to change current provisions in the Code of Federal Regulations which do not allow brook trout fishing in the Smokies. In the near future the Park also plans to release an Environmental Assessment for public review of the proposed rule change. * * * NPS * * *