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Hard choices remain to be made regarding trout allocation

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is bumping the percentage of rainbow trout stocked prior to opening day of trout season from 70 to 90 percent of the total starting in 2014.

There's a new hand being dealt Pennsylvania's trout anglers, that much we know.

But who's going to get what cards? That's what remains to be determined.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced this past week that — for financial reasons — it's going to close two hatcheries by the end of next year. The result will be about 700,000 fewer adult trout stocked statewide each year starting in 2015. The total will drop from 3.2 million to about 2.5 million.

The question is how best to use the fish that will remain available.

Five possible strategies for making the trout stocking program more efficient were detailed this past week, as were five alternate stocking strategies.

Jason Detar, a biologist for the agency who was part of a work group tasked with examining the trout program, said four possible efficiency changes would cut down on the number of fish needed for stocking. They are:

• Remove 19 stream sections that are in the bottom 10 percent of all waters in terms of angler use on opening day from the stocking list.

• Remove 24 “class B” streams with good populations of wild brook trout from the stocking list.

• Remove 44 small stream sections that receive only a single preseason stocking of 300 trout from the stocking list.

• Subtract and use elsewhere the 300 to 500 trout released into each of 101 small stream sections after opening day; the fish represent the only in-season stockings on those waters.

The fifth efficiency idea would save money only. It calls for getting cooperative nurseries to stock fish in 10 stream sections the commission can't reach without using a specially-fitted pickup truck.

The five alternate stocking strategies are:

• Reduce the number of trout allocated to rural stream sections by 7 percent and to rural rivers by 6 percent.

• Reduce the allocation to rural “destination” streams to more standard rates.

• Reduce the allocation to suburban stream sections by 20 percent and to suburban rivers by 8 percent.

• Reduce the allocation to medium and large lakes by 10 percent.

• Reduce the target size of brook and brown trout from 11 to 10.25 inches.

The idea of putting fewer fish into suburban streams in particular holds promise, Detar said. Suburban and rural stream sections account for nearly 1,000 of the 1,100 stream sections stocked statewide. Suburban streams get far more fish than rural ones, but they really don't generate many more angling trips, he said.

“Based on the amount of usage they're getting, we're probably putting too many fish in those waters now,” Detar said.

The problem is that, even if all of the efficiencies and strategies are implemented, they cut the number of trout needed by only about 320,000. The commission needs to account for having 700,000 fewer fish with hatcheries closing.

That means more sacrifices will have to be made, admitted Dave Miko, chief of the commission's division of fisheries management.

“We'll be cutting some waters not getting enough use to justify continued stocking from the list completely, no doubt. And there may be percentage cuts in stocking numbers for all waters across the board,” Miko said.

The hope is that the commission can make those cuts without losing fishermen, he said.

“Through education, we can show people opportunities to fish and direct them to them,” he said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors

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