Western New York brook trout on the rebound

When many anglers think of brook trout in New York, they automatically think about the Adirondacks. This colorful char, also recognized as our state fish, has a long and storied history in the Empire State. It wasn’t until recently, when I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Hoffman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that I realized there’s more brook trout around the entire state than I ever would have imagined. In fact, just in DEC’s Region 9, there are 334 different waters that have some type of brook trout presence!

Region 9 consists of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Erie, Wyoming and Niagara counties. Hoffman, working in conjunction with DEC fisheries biologist Scott Cornett in Region 9, has been collaborating on this particular brook trout effort to figure out the status of populations. Some genetic work is also being conducted to figure out what strain of brook trout makes home in these western New York areas. A large portion of the funding has been coming from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Brook trout populations are not spread evenly through the region, however. According to Hoffman, a majority of the streams harboring these speckled trout can be found in the Allegany and Genesee watershed in the Southern Tier of the region.

Work has been underway to try and figure out these fish for a few years. Not just in western New York, but throughout the Northeast. The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture is a dedicated group of fisheries agencies (state and federal) and other groups all working in concert to develop a population assessment of brook trout; identify threats to wild fish and the habitats associated with these fish; and develop fisheries management strategies to protect, enhance and restore these state fish throughout the range of the eastern brook trout.

One important piece to the fish management puzzle is to correct the connectivity within a waterway. Many streams have been disconnected through problematic culverts. This directly affects the natural flow of populations through a system. It’s important to fix the problems if we want to correct and enhance the productivity of a stream. Last year alone, DEC fisheries personnel checked out over 600 different road/stream crossings and over 100 were identified as severe situations. The Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, where Hoffman works (located in the headquarters of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, N.Y.), checked over 500 road/stream crossings last year as well. That’s over 1,100 between the two agencies. Work on the problem areas will be conducted in 2017 and 2018.

Another partner in this effort to improve the connectivity of streams has been the Buffalo/Niagara Riverkeeper, a group that has been taking advantage of grant monies to help enhance the area’s natural resources. Other groups have the opportunity to apply for grant funds to assist in the effort. Contact Hoffman at (585) 948-5445.

Hoffman noted they have already worked with the Seth Green Chapter and the Western New York Chapter of Trout Unlimited to improve fish habitat in several streams. It’s a great way to help the fish along and build a rapport with the community as they work together to make things better.

“In some situations we were surprised at the amount of quality habitat we found,” said Hoffman. “This is encouraging because this could help us with the big picture of natural reproduction.” A good model of restoration work has been the Canadaway Creek Conservation Project, tied in with the Children of the Stream, led by Alberto Rey of Fredonia. They have been stocking brook trout on their own for a number of years. This will be the subject of a future blog right here on the New York Outdoor News website.

 

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