Wild trout spawning at Jabez

March 03, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

For the first time in more than six years, wild baby trout are darting about the left fork of the Jabez Branch, proof that years of trying to revive the stream's trout population have not been in vain.

A team of Maryland Department of Natural Resources fish experts, armed with cameras and nets, confirmed the finding yesterday. The timing couldn't be better for environmental activists lobbying to preserve the Jabez ecosystem.

"Tomorrow is my birthday -- this is the best present," environmental activist Lina Vlavianos said yesterday. "It is just phenomenal."

Charlie R. Gougeon, DNR regional fisheries manager, first spotted the 1 1/2 -inch-long fish Wednesday. He had stopped by the stream on a whim.

"I thought I saw a minnow darting, but it didn't look like any minnow I'd ever seen," said Mr. Gougeon.

A closer look revealed 18 brook trout that emerged from the zTC gravel about three weeks ago, he said. The fry, many bulging with food, could be distinguished by their twitching yellow tails.

Mr. Gougeon has been involved in the attempt to re-establish a brook trout population in the Jabez, once Maryland's southernmost wild native trout stream.

"This is the first time in six or more years that there has been any reproduction in this stream. These are honest-to-goodness wild fish spawned right here," Robert A. Bachman, director of DNR's Fish, Wildlife and Heritage Administration, said yesterday. "This is a red-letter day today, Christmas in March."

Since 1991, the DNR has moved hundreds of wild trout from Frederick and Baltimore counties into the Jabez. Some of the fish survived, but no fish were born in the Jabez.

The recent birth of the fry, spawned from trout stocked in the Jabez, is an enormous boost to environmentalists. They want the state and Anne Arundel County to buy land next to the meandering stream near Gambrills and thereby save a crucial trout habitat. The fish need fresh, cold, relatively clean water to survive.

Local and state agencies are negotiating with the owners of Holliday Park, a 141.68-acre tract where residential development planned. The Severn River Commission, the oversight body appointed by county and Annapolis officials, has urged the governments to spend $1 million to buy as much of Holliday Park as possible. The stream winds through a ravine below Holliday Park.

Tom Baldwin, an owner of Holliday Park, said yesterday that he was surprised when he was told trout had spawned in the stream. He said his company has given the DNR drawings and maps of the site. State officials said they were evaluating the papers to set purchase priorities.

The spawning of trout in the Jabez increases the stream's environmental value. Mr. Baldwin and state officials could not say whether the land's dollar value would increase. The state has yet to appraise the area.

Trout vanished from the 382-yard-long left fork of the Jabez Branch in 1990, falling victim to highway and other development. Angry conservationists demanded that the state find the source of the problem and remedy it.

Studies are continuing, but signs pointed to erosion caused by water runoff, sudden rises in water temperature from summer rain on Route 32, and naturally occurring sulfuric acid leaching from a highway median pond. The State Highway Administration made changes in water runoff and infiltration basins, and sealed the pond.

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