Big news for Maryland’s only native trout species!
As of January 1st, the state of Maryland now requires 1) catch-and-release for brook trout in all put-and-take waters statewide, and 2) catch-and-release for brook trout in all waters located east of Interstate 81 (central Maryland).
The purpose of this action is to eliminate the harvest of mature brook trout in Maryland’s most pressured waters (put-and-take waters) and stressed populations (fish east of Interstate 81).
This is a big win for brook trout conservation because brook trout populations have decreased substantially throughout their native range. The combination of human population growth, urbanization, and climate change have resulted in considerable habitat degradation, mainly through loss of forest cover and riparian zones, increased water temperatures, and siltation. Consequently, brook trout are found in less than 35% of their historically occupied areas in Maryland.
In an effort to maintain and enhance the current brook trout populations, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is in the process of developing a conservation plan to improve population resilience. Additionally, Maryland is a signatory partner of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. The Agreement includes the Brook Trout Outcome, which calls for an 8 percent increase in occupied habitat by 2025.
For anglers worried about their ability to harvest trout, the DNR will continue their usual stocking efforts of approximately 330,000 hatchery-raised trout per year. Outside of native brook trout, stocked trout will provide ample opportunities to catch and keep other trout species. When it comes to brook trout, the DNR believes that the value of releasing these fish is greater, both socially and ecologically than harvest, especially given the abundant opportunity to harvest stocked trout.
It is also incredibly important for anglers to be able to distinguish between trout species when deciding whether or not to keep a fish. This is especially important for the put-and-take waters where there may be populations of both wild and stocked fish including brook, brown, and rainbow trout. If you need to brush up on your trout identification skills check out this video from our friend Huge Fly Fisherman.
Brook trout populations are in constant flux due to a variety of factors. Droughts, high flows, and anchor ice are all factors that can impact the recruitment and future abundance of these fish. Eliminating harvest will not correct population declines associated with weather extremes, climate change, and land-use changes, but it may minimize further loss— particularly during stressful periods when large adults are most vulnerable.
All information in this article was obtained from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.