This is an email I received last weekend as a result of what I said in the Southern Trout Newsletter in late June. Normally I do not share these, but I thought this might be of interest, as my remarks were regarded as "out of school" by some. The following is sort of backwards (as email responses go). The reply to my statements are first, followed by what Mr. Seehorn is commenting on. I am quite anxious to see how this flies on the forum. It is as it arrived, save for the removal of mr. Seehorn's email address.

This is the first common sense statement or article I've seen on the brook trout, and as far as I'm concerned you're right on target. When you have to separate fish based upon one genetic allele, it's gnat picking. All these isolated populations of "southern Appalachian" strains of the brook trout have low genetic diversity, which simply points out they are inbred to the nth degree. At one brook trout meeting that I attended, the taxonomists pointed out this fact. When I suggested that, since they were staunchly opposed to introducing northern strain fish to the populations, why not introduce fish from geographically separated populations of "Southern Strain" fish in order to broaden the genetic base. They acted as if I had suggested they participate in a "gang bang"!

There are a substantial group of people (Rush Limbaugh would call them the "uninformed public") who would like to see the "Southern Appalachian" strain put on the endangered list. That way they could stop all fishing for them. I told the Park officials when they were contemplating closing fishing on brook trout streams, that such action would simply be a loss of fishing opportunity, and would do nothing for the brook trout populations in those streams. When the brook trout populations were monitored after being closed all those years, population structure was basically the same as before. When you have a fish as short lived as a brook trout (practically never exceeding three years age), I don't know why you need any regulation on it. There is no way even heavy fishing pressure would remove a breeding population. That is the only point you stressed that I don't agree with. There is no way that poaching (fishing) was a factor in brook trout DISTRIBUTION. Poaching could crop off a significant portion of the larger fish, but not completely remove the breeding population. If distribution of brook trout was decreasing, the introduction of rainbow trout was the primary factor just as it was on the National Forests.

Furthermore, for those individuals wanting to recognize or develop additional "unique" populations or strains, why not make the same efforts with blacknose dace, bluehead chub, redhorse suckers, sculpin, or any other species. I have no doubt that they could come up with as much genetic difference between Catawba River NC redbreast sunfish and Chattooga River redbreast in Georgia. There is a good possibility that you could separate them visually, which I defy anyone to do with NC and GA brook trout. As Chairman of the Southeastern Trout Committee, I set up a study over thirty years ago in which Game and Fish Agencies in VA, TN, NC, SC, and GA collected brook trout from their three most pristine or least likely to have been stocked streams, for genetic and meristic (scale counts, color pattern, and all physical measurements) analysis. The result was no separation at the sub-specific level for genetics, and simply no way to separate them using meristic counts. A copy of the final report (two or so inches thick) was given to each State Agency and all Forest Service Supervisors Offices within those States.

Monte E. Seehorn
Gainesville, GA 30506

-----Original Message----- From: Southern Trout
Sent: Monday, June 17, 2013 2:24 PM
Subject: Southern Trout Newsletter June 17, 2013

“Distilling southern trout fishing since 1959”
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** June 17, 2013
Don Says
It's a Fish

Since the early 1970s, much ado has been made, and many millions of dollars have gone into researching and supposedly saving the brook trout in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. For a variety of reasons these colorful little char are making a strong comeback in many streams. For a number of fishery professionals, the brook trout of the South have become something of a cash cow and one that it may be time to sell at market.

A couple of weeks ago it was announced that there is a “new” black bass that has been discovered in the southern rivers of Georgia and Alabama as well as in northern Florida. Dubbed the Choctaw bass, it appears to be closely related to the spotted bass. It is a smallish black bass akin to the Roanoke, Coosa, and Flint River basses. It is comparable in that it has a limited range, at least as far has anyone knows for now.

I am not a fisheries expert backed by a ton of expensive research to back up my WAG (wild *** guess), but I feel reasonably confident that the Choctaw bass was in these waters all along prior to its discovery. The questions now are: Is the Choctaw bass endangered, or plentiful? Is the habitat of the rare Choctaw bass shrinking? Does the Choctaw bass need special protection? Do we need emergency funding to study the Choctaw bass to ensure its continued existence? Leaping lizards!

The current hoopla around the uniqueness of the brook trout in the Southern Appalachian Mountains is comparable to this in many ways. With continued advancements in DNR identification, I believe it possible to find some small difference in just about every existing population of these fish found in the Southern Highlands. If you need further proof look at the work currently underway in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding national forest lands. A cadre of fishery professionals has literally turned researching these fish in a flourishing cottage industry.

In 1975 the NPS closed miles of remaining brook trout streams to fishing and put a prohibition on keeping brook trout. Then the range of brook trout in the national park was shrinking, and a large part of the problem was poaching. Rather than do their job and adequately police fishing in the park, the NPS closed streams. Containment of rainbow and brown trout encroachment on the range of brook trout, another big problem, was then and is now as simple as allowing fishermen to keep all of the rainbow they catch in these waters, and making brook trout a catch-and-release species.

That would be too easy, and to do so now would certainly end lucrative funding to a handful of fishery professionals. Don’t get me wrong, I love the brook trout of the South as much as anyone I know. However, I believe the money spent splitting DNA and studying these fish to death would be better spent putting a few more feet on the ground policing poaching. In reality, what possible difference does it make if there is a .01 percent difference in the DNA of a brook trout native to northern Georgia to those in the Smokies or the Shenandoah? For that matter, does it matter if they differ from the brook trout in Pennsylvania or New York? Sure they are all ever so slightly different. So what is next, the “Raven Fork” brookie or the “Rapidan” brookie? I say again, leaping lizards!

It’s a very expensive, very slippery slope we are navigating if we continue to fund meaningless research that has more potential to curtain sport fishing under the guise of protecting unique subspecies than to enhance sport fishing. A brook trout is a brook trout.

Here are six brook trout, one each from Tennessee, Colorado, Nova Scotia, New York, Maine and Michigan. See how many you can match to the state where that fish was caught. I’m willing to bet heavily that you pick the wrong one.