Saving Sea-run Brook Trout

Sea-run brook trout, Red Brook, Plymouth, MassachusettsIn the fall of 2015, I documented the work of conservationists and environmental workers on Red Brook, which flows through the Trustees of Reservations’s Lyman Reserve, in Plymouth, MA. This southern Massachusetts coastal stream is home to one of few remaining populations of sea-run brook trout in the state. Locally known as “salters”, these trout were once one of the Northeast’s most iconic game fish. Feeding on juvenile herring and elvers, sea-run brook trout tend to grow larger than those confined to fresh water, which made them very desirable to 19th century anglers. Today, sea-run brook trout have been extirpated from countless coastal streams across their historical range, which goes from Labrador, Canada, to Long Island, New York. But their demise was only caused in part by overfishing. Even more damage was caused by dams, cranberry bogs, raised road culverts, pollution and warmer waters.

The trend towards the salters’s disappearance can however be reversed. Sea-run brook trout have made promising comebacks in Cape Cod’s Quashnet River and in Red Brook, thanks to the continuing efforts of Massachusetts’s Division of Fisheries & Wildlife and teams of Trout Unlimited volunteers led by Fran Smith on the Quashnet in the 1980s and 1990s, and subsequently by Warren Winders on Red Brook. Then, in 2009, Warren Winders and two other environmental activists, Geoffrey Day and Michael Hopper, founded the Sea-run Brook Trout Coalition (SRBTC) — Winders, Day and Hopper are now respectively Director, Executive Director and President of this non-profit organization.

The SRBTC’s mission is to protect and bring back sea-run brook trout populations not only in Massachusetts but throughout their entire historical range, by restoring their habitat in partnership with other non-profit organizations, local TU chapters and governmental agencies. Raising funds from individual members, foundations, and corporate donors like the outdoor outfitter Patagonia, the SRBTC was able to support research and restoration projects that would otherwise go unfunded. Among these is the largest sea-run brook trout tagging and data collection project to date, conducted on the Quashnet River and Red Brook by Massachusetts DFW district manager Steve Hurley. This ongoing study provides invaluable data about the salters’ migratory behavior, which can inform other restoration efforts. The SRBTC currently supports studies and restoration projects on a dozen other sites in Massachusetts, Maine, New York and Connecticut, in streams where sea-run brook trout are known to remain, but also where they could be reintroduced. To learn more about the Sea-run Brook Trout Coalition and support their actions, visit www.searunbrookie.org.

My photos of sea-run brook trout conservation efforts on Red Brook appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Eastern Fly Fishing, along with an article of my own.

Photo: A sea-run brook trout tagged and then released during a population survey by Massachusetts’s DFW in Red Brook, Plymouth, MA. © Christophe Perez.