Trout Power volunteers collect ‘brookie’ DNA around Sagamore Lake
By Zachary Matson
Anglers from around the region met at Great Camp Sagamore earlier this month for a mission: fish for brook trout and collect their DNA.
Trout Power, a nonprofit dedicated to studying native brook trout strains and connecting anglers to science, hosted a weekend of fishing Sagamore Lake and the streams that feed and drain it. The organization is confident it has identified a native brook trout strain in the area, calling it the Sagamore strain, one that has seen little impact from cross-breeding with stocked trout.
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During the weekend, they aimed to collect more DNA samples to deepen their understanding of the fish and its genetics.
““There’s only one way to know (if the fish is unique), to go in and do those genetics,” said Chris Murphy, president of Trout Power.
A few dozen volunteers headed down trails, paddled the lake and bushwacked nearby stream corridors with the goal of collecting more than 50 samples from brook trout. Fly fishing gear was a must.
After dividing into groups of three or four, the anglers headed into the field. A committee maps out the group’s strategy beforehand, targeting different streams.
Equipped from head to toe for the mission, the anglers shared tips on types of flies, rods, bug protection and waders.
The volunteer anglers, some on their first outing with Trout Power and some on their first fishing trip in the Adirondacks, fished until they caught a brook trout.
After catching one, they netted the fish and wrestled with the squirmy bugger as they sought to clip a small part of its tail fin, used to determine its genetic sequence. Plastic bags filled with water came in handy.
By placing the fish into water-filled bags the anglers could more easily collect samples while minimizing stress to the fish. For each successful fin clip, another fish usually slipped away before the sample could be gathered.
After catching the fish and collecting the fin clip, they released them back into the stream.
The fin clips are preserved in small vials filled with ethyl alcohol. The samples will be sent to a lab in Michigan to extract the genetic information. From there, they’ll go to University at Albany researcher Spencer Bruce, who helps analyze brook trout genetics.
The citizen science aims to identify brook trout strains that are native to the Adirondacks. Thanks to isolation, these strains have been little impacted by decades of stocked fish that are introduced each year. The anglers hope to locate the native strains and work to improve their habitats and protect their Adirondack legacy.
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Thank you. This is a very important story that will no doubt be contested by pro-stocking groups. Given that heritage brook trout strains are the closest thing to an “Adirondack endemic” that we’ve got (that we know of), the DEC’s stocking program needs to be scrutinized more closely. Especially for the remote stocking and reintroduction program for the Adirondacks — though a sensitive and secretive topic — the science is questionable and the risks often seem outweigh the rewards (the program had to be temporarily halted a few years ago due to a zebra mussel infestation at a state hatchery).