Long before the state legislature began talking about recognizing the brook trout as our “heritage fish,” Mainers had a special relationship with brookies.
The mere mention of the species elicits images of babbling remote streams and lazy days tromping up and down the banks.
When Trout Unlimited produced a report for the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, Mainers found out exactly how special and plentiful their brook trout habitat is.
“From our perspective, [the report itself is] really exciting,” said Jeff Reardon, the New England conservation director for TU, who lives and works in Maine. “We had all the federal agencies that work on fisheries issues, 17 different state agencies and what they’ve done is a comprehensive survey on the status of brook trout and what the threats to brook trout and brook trout habitat are, in states from Maine to Georgia and west to Ohio.”
Reardon echoed the sentiments of the report, declaring Maine “the last stronghold of brook trout,” pointing out that, statistically, much of the best brookie habitat in the east is right here in Maine.
“We looked at thousands and thousands of watersheds in those 17 states,” he said. “Of those, half of the intact watersheds, where brook trout populations are intact, are here in Maine. And 97 percent of the lakes and ponds that have intact populations are here in Maine.”
Bobby Van-Riper, a fisheries biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, said brook trout are vulnerable fish that don’t do well in extreme conditions. Thus, the health of a brookie population can often equate to the overall health of a brook or stream.
“They are that canary in a coal mine,” Van-Riper said. “Their habitat requirements are such that they require clean, cold water. And basically, so do we as humans. We need to have clean, cold water for the quality of our habitat as well. So where we don’t see [trout], that could tell us a lot.”
Reardon said the places you don’t see trout are in populated areas. A glance at the color map TU produced glows bright red in major population centers. Red, in this context, means that brook trout populations have been “greatly reduced” in waters nearby.
In Maine, those red zones begin in southern Maine, and follow a neat path north, tracing the I-95 corridor.
Development isn’t necessarily good for brook trout. Neither is pollution. When people move near streams and put in lawns right down to the water’s edge, vital habitat is destroyed.
“And as we see development move farther north in Maine, we’re going to see that pattern [of declining habitat and trout populations] happen in areas where the brook trout are intact now,” Reardon said.
Reardon said much important work is left. First on his list, he said, is that those streams that weren’t surveyed before the report (some of the information was anecdotal) must be surveyed.
Van-Riper agreed and said a part-time worker has been hired in his region to perform nothing but stream surveys for the entire summer.
And Reardon said Maine’s place at the top of the eastern brook trout heap wouldn’t hurt when conservationists are looking for places they can do the most good.
“I think that those of us in Maine have known for a long time what a special resource we’ve got here,” Reardon said. “But in terms of nationwide conservation, if you want to conserve brook trout, Maine’s really the place to do it where there’s still a lot of brook trout streams around.”
Salmon hearing looms
If you’re an Atlantic salmon angler, you’ll likely want to cancel your Thursday night plans and head to Holden Elementary School.
That’s when the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission will hear formal testimony at a public hearing that will help determine whether we’ll be fishing on the Penobscot River this year.
The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m., and you can’t miss the school: It’s right next to the town municipal building on Route 1A.
The Penobscot, along with all of the state’s other rivers, was closed to fishing back in 1999 and has remained closed since.
The proposal on the table would open the river to a limited catch-and-release fishing season this fall. While many anglers have said they’d rather the ASC open the river during the traditional spring season, ASC’s science team has maintained that it’s best to err on the side of caution when reopening the river.
A quick note to start you thinking about salmon. According to Gayland Hachey’s Web site, the Veazie fish trap on the Penobscot has been pretty busy thus far this spring.
Hachey, who owns Hachey’s Fly Shop, keeps a running tally of the fish count, and reports that as of May 20, 36 Atlantic salmon had been trapped.
A year ago, high water kept workers from accessing the trap for much of the spring and no fish had been counted as of May 20.
In 2004, 28 fish had arrived by the same date, and in 2003, the May 20 total was 12.
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 990-8214 or 1-800-310-8600.