April 2, 2019

Freshwater Institute Partners with West Virginia to Research and Restore Declining Brook Trout Population

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute, in collaboration with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WV DNR), recently reintroduced several hundred brook trout into an adjoining spring of the Opequon Creek, Jefferson County, West Virginia. The fingerling-sized trout resulted from a months-long research experiment to determine causality behind the decline of West Virginia’s state fish population.

Brook trout are the only trout species native to West Virginia, but changes in land use, increasing water temperature and loss of streamside canopy and shade, among other factors, have caused the trout population to dwindle. In fact, native brook trout have become completely extirpated from many streams in the state’s Eastern Panhandle. The research project between Freshwater Institute and WV DNR determined that calcium precipitate in high pH water could also have a negative effect on juvenile brook trout development and survival.

Freshwater Institute Research Scientist John Davidson said, “It’s been exciting to collaborate with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in support of their brook trout reintroduction effort. It’s a fantastic partnership that allowed our groups to combine forces in fish culture, research, and ecology to generate positive conservation outcomes.”

To conduct the research project, brook trout eggs were acquired from a nearby hatchery, stocked in replicate trays with fine gravel to simulate the substrate used in brook trout nests, and exposed to three different water types. Brook trout eggs placed in high pH water with calcium precipitate did not survive as marl siltation covered the developing fish.

Freshwater Institute continued to grow brook trout remaining from other treatments alongside other fish at their facility. The surviving trout were recently picked up and released into their natural habitat by WV DNR in partnership with Shepherd University’s Ichthyology class as a hands-on learning experience for local college students.

“It was truly incredible to take part in releasing the only West Virginia native salmonid species back into one of West Virginia’s waterways,” said Meghan Sikes, a student at Shepherd University, “I’ve never really been a part of such a historic event and I’m so thankful that our Ichthyology class could meet the Freshwater Institute and the WVDNR and we could help release the brook trout.”

Freshwater Institute and the WV DNR are committed to combatting further losses of native brook trout in the state, increasing the success of local reintroduction efforts, and restoring populations of West Virginia’s iconic state fish.

WV DNR Assistant Fisheries Biologist Clayton Raines added, “The WV DNR looks forward to our continued work with The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute. Our respective teams of scientists will continue researching best practices for increasing hatching and survival rates of brook trout in our waters to help them thrive and to secure the future of this species in West Virginia.”

For more information on this project, please visit our website.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8 million acres of land. www.conservationfund.org

About the Freshwater Institute
For nearly three decades, The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute has been one of the nation’s premier research and development facilities dedicated to sustainable water use and reuse, specializing in aquaculture systems technology. Through our numerous publications, both in science and industry, we share our progress and research findings in order to support our complimentary goals of environmental sustainability, human health and economic vitality. https://www.conservationfund.org/our-work/freshwater-institute

Media Contacts:
John Davidson, The Conservation Fund, 304-876-2815, jdavidson@conservationfund.org
Eric Wuestewald, The Conservation Fund, 703-908-5813, ewuestewald@conservationfund.org

Brook trout in Pendleton County, W.V. Photo by Steve Droter/Chesapeake Bay Program.