Brook Trout are the only native trout species in Tennessee. But local biologists are concerned about them disappearing.

On June 5, 280 juvenile Brook Trout were released into Little Stony Creek. The Brook Trout are only found in higher elevations in southern Appalachia. They now only occupy 15% of it's historic range, making the game of Jenga here, a dangerous one. 

"Yeah, it might still stand if you pull this block, you'll be okay if you pull this block, but we don't know at what point, we're going to pull a block, a species is going to go extinct, and the whole tower is going to come tumbling down," states Meredith Harris, Reintroduction Biologist with the Tennessee Aquarium.

Decades of poor land management practices, and introducing non-native and competing Rainbow and Brown Trout, has caused the Brook Trout to almost disappear. The project began in 2012. Meredith Harris and her team breed the Brook Trout locally at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. Harris says the spawning process begins in October, and eggs are hatched around Thanksgiving.

The institute currently houses six males and 21 females in separate tanks for identification. Harris says they must release them when they're young enough to develop natural defense behaviors.

"When you put them in the stream, and a Great Blue Heron leans over the water, what are they going to do? They're going to swim right up to it and get snapped up," adds Biologist Meredith Harris.

Space for the trout plays a role. Therefore the fish can only be a few inches long when released.

About a four hour drive from Chattanooga, TWRA selected Little Stony Creek as a candidate where the fish could be released.

Brook Trout do not like high swift waters, historical data must be evident to prove the fish were here before, and there must be some type of protection from other trout.

"There needs to be a presence of a barrier that will prevent the movement of the non-native Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout from moving into the stream as they out-compete the Brook Trout," adds Harris.

If you've noticed license plates around with a fish on it, it is the Brook Trout. The project is funded through the local chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Harris says in the fall, her team will start the process all over again. They hope to release anywhere from 200 to 700 again at Little Stony Creek next summer.

If you want to help with the conservation project, you can purchase the Brook Trout license plate at any local county clerk office for $36. 

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