Wildlife Resources hastily rescued a rare fish species. Now we know if the beloved devs survived

Adult brooke is weighed and measured so that biologists can track the health of the species. This juice didn’t hurt, just in a momentary stupor and calmed down by a mild electric shock and a few drops of clove oil. Soon the fish returned to the table. (Photo: Lisa Sorge)

a On a crisp summer morning in the mountains, T.J. Johnson, a conservation biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, hoists a metal box the size of a small refrigerator onto his back. He wears rubber wading and gloves, and dips two snowshoe-shaped electrodes into the current. The box beeps, a red light flashes, and Johnson fires the water with 400 volts of electricity.

Nearby is Matt Bodenhammer, assistant director of fish hatcheries for the Wildlife Commission, who also wears gloves, and owns a net.

“I got one!” Bodenhammer says

Scoop, drop, into the bucket.

“There’s one more,” Johnson shouted.

scoop. plop. Bucket.

Brookies—a nickname for the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout—are golden, gray and green, dotted with red dots, and offset by orange fins and a white belly. Because their scales are small, their skin is soft and supple.

It is a fragile and unstable species, it lives only in the headwaters of mountain streams, where no other fish can thrive. Each stream is home to its own line of genetically distinct brookie.

A year ago, biologists at NC Wildlife Resources ran a test Emergency rescue of brookies From part of Khor Rami, down the mountain and about six miles. There, Bottomley Properties, a company based in Ghana’s county, has planted 360 acres of forest to expand its cattle grazing operations.

The shade trees that cooled Ramy Creek and settled the river banks were cut down to stumps. Rocks, mud, and dirt liberated by torrential rain poured into the creek, damaging three-quarters of an acre of wetland and more than three linear miles of waterways, threatening the river’s survival. Public records show that employees at the state’s Department of Water Resources described the violations as “some of the largest sedimentation damage ever seen”.

Over the course of two weeks in June 2021, biologists at Wildlife Resources retrieved 97 brookies from Ramy Creek. They transported the fish to an unnamed tributary of Fishers Creek, on property in Surrey County owned by the Piedmont Land Conservancy.

Today, biologists will learn if these companies survived.

Matt Bodenhamer, left, and T.J. Johnson of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission prepare to shock a section of a stream to find clubs designated as “species of special interest.” (Photo: Lisa Sorge)

T His journey to an unnamed tributary begins with a four-mile climb and descent in a UTV — a versatile mission vehicle — over rocks the diameter of bowling balls. Over cracks and drifting roads. Over steep hills that UTV tires nibble on dirt for traction.

It can be confusing to humans. For fish falling into tanks, even if they are drugged with clove oil, the journey will be harrowing.

The last stretch—a 700-foot drop at just over a quarter of a mile in elevation—is done on foot. Biologists are loaded with equipment as if they were mules. Other than the occasional path taken by deer, there are no paths here. Just a thicket of rhododendrons, snags of fallen logs, and orchards of lady ferns curling up on their legs.

White noise from rising waterfalls. Then there is: the stream, pure, clear, and cool. Brockie Jane. Caddisflies and other aquatic insects live among the pebbles and stones that line the riverbed – a buffet for Corbyns. Trees block the water and keep the fish cool.

Over the next 15 minutes, Bodenhamer and Johnson briskly bumped the stream in 10-meter increments, hoping to keep the brothers out of their hiding places. Then each fish is placed in a collective bucket partially filled with stream water, and lazily at the bottom, as if falling asleep a little.

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The smallest club species found today would have laid an egg last October or November and hatched in January. When they come out of their eggs, they are only 15 millimeters long — just over half an inch — and the yolk is still stuck to their stomach, Johnson says.

Today, while collecting fish, wildlife biologists count, weigh and measure them. The data will help them learn about the health of food supply intermediaries. Johnson calls the lengths in millimeters — 61, 82, 67, 78 — which equates to 2 to 3 inches. And weights in grams — 2.3, 5.4, 2.7, 4.6 — are roughly the same as five to 10 raisins.

A little boy is getting ready for his weight and measurement. (Photo: Lisa Sorge)

Two of these are clearly adults, probably nearing the end of their normal three-year life.

“Here comes the big one,” Bodenhammer says.

225mm – 8.8in – and 109g -3.8oz – huge by Brooke’s standards.

The smallest brookie measures 52 mm, about 2 inches. “But it was very strong at 52,” says Bodenhamer.

Final 15-minute board count: 31 agents.

“That’s very good,” Johnson said. “But we have to see if these fish get bigger and bigger and then spawn, to see a whole generation come and go.”

For now, the rescue seems to have worked. Make it brookies.

“It was a small gamble, you never know for sure if this is the right home,” Johnson says. “They have preferences that are beyond our understanding.”


What’s Next: Environmental Quality Department NC Bottomley Properties fined $268,000 For Clean Water Act violations related to the degradation of streams, wetlands and streams.

Bottomli appeals the sentence. An administrative law judge is scheduled to hear the case on October 24 at High Point. (The original version of this story mentioned the date as September 26, but it has been rescheduled, according to DEQ.)

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