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Trout stockings getting underway, even as trouble looms

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 9:10 p.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Chris Booher of Bullskin Township pulls a trout out of Donegal Lake while ice fishing with his friend Harry Kiser of Acme on Thursday, January 23, 2014.

Local anglers are going to have a few more trout to fish this year than last, at least in a couple of places.

Appreciate them. Those fish are becoming more expensive to raise all the time and for reasons you might not expect.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission rolled out its 2014 trout stocking list. It breaks down, by county, which waters will get fish and when. Stocking details for a number of regional counties also will appear at triblive.com each week starting Feb. 23.

The commission's plan this year, as last, is to stock about 3.2 million adult trout averaging 11 inches long, said Dave Miko, chief of the division of fisheries management. About 2.01 million will be rainbows Another 647,000 will be browns and 527,000 will be brookies.

An additional 8,500 golden rainbows — or “palominos” — averaging 14 inches long and 1.5 pounds will be sprinkled in.

About 53 percent of all those fish will be stocked prior to opening day, which is March 29 in 18 southeastern Pennsylvania counties and April 12 everywhere else, Miko said. Another 43 percent will be stocked between those opening days and the end of May. The remaining 4 percent will be released between October and February.

The fish will be distributed to 124 lakes and 731 streams. Those can change year to year based on a number of factors.

This year, for example, a 4.55-mile section of the Bennett Branch Sinnemahoning Creek in Elk County is being added to the stocking list because of water quality improvements. A 1.5-mile section of Shobers Run in Bedford County and 3.2-mile section of Yellow Creek in Mercer County are coming off the list because of landowner posting.

A couple of local waters, meanwhile, are getting more fish.

The commission determines how many trout to put in a lake or stream based on a number of factors, said Tom Greene, coldwater unit leader for the agency. One of those is expected use. A 100-acre lake in an urban setting gets more fish per acre than a similar-sized lake in a rural one because it will see more fishermen more often, he said.

That's why, this year, Laurel Hill Lake in Somerset County and Cloe Lake in Jefferson County are among about a dozen statewide that will get more trout than previously.

“The higher the human density the more fish stocked. We update our records based on the most recent census data, and when we looked at it this year we decided it was time to make a change and stock more fish in those places,” Greene said.

The commission also has extended the length of Jones Mill Run in Somerset getting stocked. Now a full 4.8 miles, from the first bridge downstream of Becks Spring downstream to the backwaters of Laurel Hill Lake, will get brook and brown trout.

Getting those fish to the water is becoming more costly, though, and that could lead to cutbacks in other fishing and boating programs down the line, according to commission officials.

The commission has been trying to trim hatchery expenses, changing stocking truck delivery routes to increase efficiency, limiting overtime for employees and shaving electricity costs, said Brian Wisner, its chief of fish production. But fish feed costs continue to climb. The commission spent $1.4 million on feed in 2012. It expects to need $2.5 million by 2018, he said.

Limited supply is the reason.

The food fed to species like catfish and tilapia can contain a fair bit of vegetable matter, said Leroy Young, director of the commission's bureau of fisheries. Trout foods must contain more protein if you want to get good growth rates, he said.

That protein traditionally has come from ocean-going species like herring and menhaden. But supplies of those fish are shrinking, and demand is growing.

Populations of menhaden in particular are thought to be at an all-time low. That's why the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission — a 15-state collective which Pennsylvania is a part of— agreed to reduce the allowable harvest by 20 percent in 2012. That limit remained in effect through last year and will be up for review this one.

With lots of people — from fish food producers to those who manufacture the fish oils pills taken by health-conscious people — wanting a share of that harvest, prices have increased, Wisner said.

The result could be changes down the road if more money isn't found, said commission executive director John Arway. The commission is using money from its reserve fund to cover increased feed costs this year, but that won't last forever, he said. The agency may have to “dip into” the money for other programs in time, he said.

“Those are some hard decisions to make. But it's becoming a very expensive proposition to raise fish in today's environment,” Arway 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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