The Status of Brook Trout Populations in Massachusetts

Brook Trout

Brook trout occupy less than half of their original range in Massachusetts. These results reflect the condition of brook trout across their entire eastern United States range, according to an assessment released by Trout Unlimited and a coalition of state and federal agencies. The report, "Eastern Brook Trout: Status and Threats," is the first comprehensive assessment of the status of brook trout in the Eastern United States. These beautiful fish historically thrived in rivers and streams stretching from Maine to Georgia, but land use pressures have relegated the remaining isolated populations to the headwaters of high elevation streams. "Brook trout are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to water quality," said Gary Berti, Trout Unlimited's Eastern Brook Trout Campaign Coordinator. "The presence of brook trout in a watershed indicates that water quality is excellent. Declining brook trout populations can provide an early warning that the health of an entire stream, lake or river is at risk."

The few remaining patches of quality brook trout habitat in the state are located in the Berkshire and Taconic mountains and within portions of the Hoosic, Deerfield and Westfield watersheds and several tributaries to the Connecticut River. Brook trout have been eliminated from 7% of their historical range in Massachusetts, and they are greatly reduced in another 28% of habitat that formerly supported brook trout. Population status is unknown across an additional 42% of the historical range.

"While these results are sobering, we are already pursuing many opportunities for conservation of remaining high-quality habitat as well as restoration of impaired streams," said Todd Richards, Aquatic Biologist, Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife. "Our collective challenge is to protect the best remaining habitat and restore the rest." "Brookies are quick to respond to habitat improvements," explained Warren Winders, the brook trout coordinator for Trout Unlimited's Massachusetts Council. "We have already seen the results of our work with state and federal partners on the Quashnet River and Red Brook in southeastern Massachusetts. By scaling up these programs throughout the state and region, we will see wild brook trout returning to our streams. And that's great news for all of us who love to fish locally with our families and friends."

This assessment represents the first stage of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture's collaborative efforts to restore brook trout habitat. The Joint Venture was initiated in 2002 as a pilot program of the National Fish Habitat Initiative. Participants include fish and wildlife agencies from 17 states, federal partners, conservation organizations and academic institutions. The results of this assessment will be used to develop state-by-state strategies for brook trout conservation and recovery. The full report, as well as state-specific data and maps, are available at www.tu.org. For more information, contact Warren Winders, Trout Unlimited-Mass. Chapter 781/878-1074.

-- Published in the 2006 Massachusetts Wildlife Magazine (#1), this article details the current status of and threats to brook trout and their habitat and what the MassWildlife and others are doing to assess, protect and restore the brook trout fishery.