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Fish and Boat Commissioners not settled on wild vs. stocked trout

| Saturday, July 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Submitted
Stocked trout provide lots of recreation and sell lots of licenses. But do stocked fish belong in Class A streams, even those that have been getting fish for years? And if so, who decides that and how? That's something the Fish and Boat Commission is debating right now.

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commissioners addressed a lot of issues at their quarterly meeting this past week.

The one they didn't may be most telling.

Board members tabled a policy change regarding how to handle streams discovered across the state that are full of wild trout and also stocked with hatchery trout.

There are 10 such streams — including two sections of Yellow Creek in Bedford County, Penns Creek in Centre and Fishing Creek in Clinton — that are popular with anglers. Stocked for years, eight of the 10 attract more anglers on opening day of trout season than 75 percent of all other streams statewide do. Six of the 10 attract more fishermen than 90 percent of streams.

What makes them unique is that they're full of wild trout. Multiple surveys done on each of the 10 since 2010 revealed they have more than enough wild fish to be classified as Class A trout waters — the highest designation possible — and some have five times as many needed.

That's a conflict.

Class A waters are the “best of the best” when it comes to wild trout, noted commissioner Bill Worobec of Lycoming County. They typically do not get stocked.

Commission staff members want to make some exceptions, though.

It asked commissioners to classify the 10 streams as Class A waters to give them the highest protection available under the law. They also asked to be allowed to continue stocking them.

That caused a split on the board.

Worobec said he would go along with the idea, only if the approval of the idea of stocking over Class A populations of fish in the streams — in these 10 cases and others going that might be identified as being similar in the future — was granted by a “supermajority” of commissioners. That would require seven of 10 commissioners to sign off on the idea in each case.

“That is a statement of our assertion, said time and again, that these waters are important,” Worobec said.

Commissioner Bob Bachman of Lancaster County took an even harder stance.

The commission has a “long history” of stocking trout in waters that otherwise wouldn't provide fishing for that species, and that's fine, he said. But it also has a track record of protecting Class A populations, he said. That's in keeping with the commission's mission of being a conservation agency whose job is to “protect, conserve and enhance” the resource.

Stocking trout over abundant, thriving wild populations doesn't mesh with that, he said.

“I submit that this proposal is inconsistent with our code, our resource management and our Class A wild trout policy. I don't understand the logic of this at all,” Bachman said.

Andy Shiels, deputy director for field operations for the commission, said the proposal represents an effort to straddle a line. The commission wants to secure maximum water quality protection for the streams — something a Class A designation will help provide — while also maintaining a level and kind of fishing an “entrenched user group” is accustomed to, he said.

“The staff is attempting to provide balance,” Shiels said.

The streams in question have been known to hold Class A populations of wild fish for a long while, added executive director John Arway. But past administrations and boards “put them in a closet.” The agency is looking to bring them out now because it's the right thing to do, he said.

“The data requires us to make them Class A. Otherwise we're going to bastardize the science,” he said.

That's not what some want to hear. Several members of the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee took the commission to task earlier this year for considering removing the 10 streams in question from the stocking list. At least one, Rep. Joe Emrick of Northampton County, urged his constituents to write to the commission and say the same.

The commission received 134 comments on the issue — a huge number, based on history — with 95 opposed to any reductions in stocking. By comparison, 21 commenters opposed stocking Class A streams.

It's possible, too, some landowners who live along those streams will post their property against trespass if they aren't getting stocked trout, said Leroy Young, chief of the commission's bureau of fisheries, in response to a question from the board.

The commission needs to keep things like that in mind, said commissioner Glade Squires of Chester County. The commission is a business with customers who provide its revenue, just like any other, he said. They need to be accounted for, he added.

“We don't need any absolutes in our regulations. I think we're on the path of destruction and need to slow down and start thinking our way through this,” Squires said.

Commissioner Rocco Ali of Armstrong County likewise said the commission has the ability to make the streams Class A but continue stocking them as has been past practice and move on. It should consider doing just that, he added.

Ultimately, commissioners instructed staff to take another look at its proposal and come back with more information and/or answers when the board next meets in September.

No matter which way the board goes, the issue will remain contentious, Young predicted.

“We're going to make a lot of people angry. I know that, based on what I've been hearing,” 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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