Posted waters don't necessarily end fish stocking
It admittedly seems odd at first blush.
Fish raised in hatcheries, using the money supplied by anglers through their license dollars, being put into waters that are, at least in part, closed to public fishing, that is.
But it happens more than you'd think.
The issue has been on the minds of a lot of sportsmen in the past couple of weeks because of a situation in Erie County. A landowner along Elk Creek, in the area south of Route 5 known locally as “the tubes,” has posted his property against trespassing. That's put about 500 feet of stream, give or take, off limits.
Some anglers writing on internet message boards have cried foul.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks steelhead in Elk Creek. It put 240,501 in there in 2012, more than any other stream and about 24 percent of the total one million released.
They run up the stream from the lake, into and through the newly posted section.
That's left some anglers to say it's not fair that landowners can limit access to those fish. They want the commission to declare posted sections of stream like that around the tubes as “nursery waters,” a designation that would prohibit all fishing.
That's not going to happen.
“I don't think it's a done deal that we'll never access that section of stream again. We continue to look into some things,” said Tom Edwards, assistant supervisor in the commission's northwest region office.
“But for now we're asking people to respect the landowner's wishes at this time.”
That's actually the situation on a lot of stocked waters all across the state.
When it comes to trout, for example, the vast majority of stocked streams flow at least in part over private land, and more than a few flow over land that's partly posted.
The commission put publicly funded, adult-sized, catchable trout in 1,111 stream sections this year. Only 142 of those, or 13 percent, flow completely over public land.
By comparison, 37 percent flow completely over private land. Seventeen percent flow across land that is — at least in part — posted against trespassing.
“We are highly dependent on privately owned lands for a lot of our trout-stocking program,” said Leroy Young, director of the commission's bureau of fisheries. “It's a huge part of what we do.”
If 5 percent or less of a stream section is posted, it's treated as if it were all open in terms of how many trout it gets, Young said. If 5 to 15 percent of it is posted, it gets fewer trout, with the decrease matched to the percentage of posting. If 15 to 25 percent is posted, it gets fish but far less than it would otherwise. When posting exceeds 25 percent of a stream section, stocking ceases.
There's no such formula for steelhead streams, but posting doesn't mean a water won't get fish. The commission looks at waters individually and determines what to do on a case-by-case basis, he said.
“If we didn't stock steelhead in any water that had posting on it, we wouldn't stock very much,” Young said.
The commission has worked in recent years to guarantee anglers access to steelhead. Proceeds from the sale of its Lake Erie stamp — required of anyone fishing Lake Erie or its tributary streams — had generated about $5.5 million in income as of March 31 of this year. The commission has spent about $3.9 million of that, with $1.9 million going to secure permanent fishing easements on about 16 miles of stream, and the rest funding boat access and stream habitat improvements and other projects.
It's actively looking to spend the remaining $1.6 million on other projects, said Scott Bollinger, statewide public access program manager for the commission. He believes there are opportunities still out there, too.
But it takes a willing landowner.
The commission wants to pay for easements offered in perpetuity, which would require the landowner — and anyone who might inherit or buy the land — to allow fishing access for all time. At least two landowners, including the one on Elk Creek, have declined to sign agreements because they want deals that renew every year or every couple of years, Bollinger said.
The commission doesn't want to go that route, so anglers will have to fish on lands open to them and stay off those that aren't, Bollinger said.
“When you really think about it, we are asking a lot of landowners. We're paying a fair amount for easement, but still,” he said. “That's why I'm really thankful to the people who have signed up for the access program. I appreciate it.”