AUGUST 13, 2019

Brown Trout Survival in Anacostia Tributary an Upstream Struggle

As development, severe storms have increased, numbers of fish have all but disappeared

  • By Whitney Pipkin, Bay Journal

As the story goes, the first person to spot a trout rising in Paint Branch in the 1970s — a Maryland stream that already passed under a half-dozen highway ramps on its way to the Anacostia River — could hardly believe it. And despite increased development in the surrounding landscape since then, the trout have continued to persevere and reproduce in a Paint Branch tributary called Good Hope.

Above: Mark Staley of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources holds up the smaller pebbles that have long been conducive to brown trout spawning in this stretch of the Good Hope, which flows to the Anacostia River. Much of that substrate has been covered with larger cobble in recent years as development, extreme weather and other factors have changed the stream. (Dave Harp)

But they may soon be little more than urban legend.

For 40 years and counting, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has documented the little-known presence of wild brown trout in the relatively cool waters of the Good Hope. For half of those decades, every November, biologists could walk to a particular spot along the stream and see spawning beds, where trout had fertilized and covered eggs for protection through the winter. And every spring and summer, for just as long, biologists could find the fish returning to feed and shelter beneath tree roots hugging the shore.

“You could set your watch by it,” said Mark Staley, a DNR biologist who’s been participating in the annual counts since the late ’80s. “It’s remarkable that this stream was here and that it maintained the quality that it had for so very long.”

When the counts began in 1979, electrofishing surfaced nearly 40 brown trout in the Good Hope, a tributary to Paint Branch that serves as the trout’s central spawning grounds. There were trout of various sizes and newly hatched juveniles. Those numbers peaked at just more than 50 in the mid-1990s, but have been declining steadily since 1999.

Read the rest of the story in Bay Journal here: