Protecting the native brook trout population is an upstream battle for Tennessee conservation groups.
But things are looking up at year's end. The Tennessee Aquarium has just received its largest single donation since it began seeking financial support for its brook trout restoration project.
The goal is to preserve this indigenous fish that has been reduced to 15 percent of its historic range.
Thom Benson, director of external affairs for the Tennessee Aquarium, explains why the Southern Appalachian brook trout is the focus.
"Because of deforestation, poor land management practices in the past, and the introduction of brown and rainbow trout into their streams, their numbers have really declined over the last 50 years or so," he states.
Benson says the donation of more than $11,000 from the nonprofit group Trout Unlimited will go a long way in helping to preserve the native brook trout.
The restoration project encompasses every stage of its life cycle, including hatching and re-releasing fish into ancestral streams.
The brook trout's range extends north into New England and Canada, and into the Midwest, but experts say the Southern Appalachia population is genetically distinct.
Benson says understanding the conservation needs of these fish requires cooperation among the U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Trout Unlimited and a team of Aquarium biologists.
"State and federal budgets are declining, and nonprofit organizations like the Tennessee Aquarium don't have a lot of resources," he states.
"Collaborative efforts like this are great, because you can pool financial resources, you can pool expertise and you can also pool physical resources, such as the systems that we use to raise the trout."
Benson adds fund raising has been slow since the project began in 2014, but this new momentum and the shared expertise of multiple groups will benefit the fish, long term.
"It's sort of that multiplier effect of conservation, in that 'two plus two equals five' now, because you have all of this expertise and resources all pooled together - where individually, none of these organizations would be able to that work without the others," he states.
The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute says it is slowly making headway toward returning the brook trout to regional mountain streams, from which it had all but disappeared.