Park Issues Decision Following Brook Trout Assessment

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Date: June 28, 2007
Contact: Bob Miller, (865) 436-1207

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson announced today the approval of the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) signaling completion of the Final Environmental Assessment for Opening of the Brook Trout Fishery for Recreational Use. The FONSI was signed on June 11, 2007, and culminates nearly a year of planning in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
Superintendent Ditmanson said, "A year ago we reopened all but a handful of Park streams to brook trout fishing on an experimental basis after a 30-year ban.  This decision opens the door for a permanent change to Park regulations that will allow visitors to fish for brook trout throughout the Park except in three streams where active restoration is currently ongoing.  These streams are Bear Creek, Sams Creek, and Indian Flats Prong."  
Fishing and harvest will generally be open in streams throughout the Park with the exception of newly restored streams, so as to allow ample time for recovery.  Park staff will monitor and assess the viability of opening newly restored systems after a sufficient period of recovery and sound monitoring results that support such an opening.  Each restored system will be evaluated on a case by case basis. Monitoring will also be used to assess whether a "catch and release" program should be initiated if at any time the populations appears to be at risk.  
For up to date information on where anglers may legally fish for brook trout and to obtain Park fishing regulations, they may stop in at any Park visitor center or ranger station.  

Based on the success of brook trout restoration efforts and comparisons of population monitoring data from the Park and surrounding states, the NPS initiated a three-year experimental study where eight streams were opened to fishing and harvest for brook trout. This study indicated that there was no significant decline in adult brook trout density or biomass in any of the eight fished populations.  This outcome resulted in the proposed action of opening brook trout fishing to anglers on a permanent basis. 
Input from the public during the EA public comment period clearly indicated support for the permitting of brook trout fishing within the Park.  Park managers will initiate a regulation change in the Code of Federal Regulations, but in the interim the experimental brook trout fishery will continue.  The change to the existing regulation may take a year or more.  
The brook trout is a prominent part of southern Appalachian culture that has been a prized angling tradition predating the Park's establishment in 1934.  Major population losses associated with fire, logging, and non-native fish introductions during the early 1900's reduced the original range of brook trout in the Park by about 50 percent.  By the 1970's, brook trout distribution surveys revealed that this native salmonid was only found in about 25 percent of its historic range.  In 1976, Park management took steps to initiate brook trout restoration in selected streams, discontinued stocking non-native salmonids, and made it illegal to harvest brook trout.  
Research and restoration efforts from 1976 to 2001 have demonstrated that brook trout are resilient, have not lost additional range, and continue to thrive in many areas of the Park. Brook trout distribution data from surrounding states for this same time period also demonstrates that existing populations have remained relatively stable for the last 30 years.  These findings refuted the 1970's predictions that brook trout range loss was a systematic and irreversible process.
Copies of the FONSI can be obtained from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 or by calling 865/436-1208.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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