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Trout opportunities dwindling across state

Bob Frye
| Sunday, March 11, 2012

Trout fishing is a rite of spring in Pennsylvania and has been for decades.

But the business of supplying them may be changing before our eyes. That seems true, at least, in a couple of ways.

For starters, some of the people who provide those fish are disappearing.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has long partnered with local sportsmen's organizations to raise trout. The agency provides fingerlings to groups at no cost; the clubs in turn raise them, with some commission guidance, before stocking them in waters open to public fishing.

It's a great system that's worked for years to put more than a million trout in front of anglers annually.

There are about 165 clubs participating in the program now. That's been pretty consistent for a while, said Andy Shiels, chief of fish production services for the agency.

What's happening, though, is that the clubs -- and the people, mainly men -- who run the trout hatcheries are getting older, he said.

"We have an aging group. There is a national demographic at work there," Shiels told state lawmakers in Harrisburg recently, at a meeting of the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee. "And as these older people are aging, we don't see a lot of young people moving in to take their place."

For now, the commission is trying to deal with that -- and help clubs keep their hatcheries running with less manpower -- by offering more money in the way of grants. That frees up volunteers to focus just on fish, he said.

Having trout is important because statistics show that 74 percent of fishing license buyers also buy a trout stamp, said state Rep. Joe Emrick, a Northampton County Republican.

Another issue the commission is going to have to deal with, he said, is that officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have announced that, after this year, they will no longer be raising brook trout at the federal hatchery in Lamar.

In the past, the facility has produced 100,000 brook trout each year. Most of the fish were stocked in the Allegheny National Forest region, supplementing fish released by the commission.

But that's going away.

"I think after this year we'll be on our own," Shiels said.

That was all disconcerting news to state Rep. Gary Haluska, a Cambria County Democrat.

The state has made great strides in recent years cleaning up streams previously polluted by acid mine drainage, he said. At the same time, though, the number of fish available to stock in them is shrinking.

"The end result," he said, "we're actually decreasing the number of opportunities for people to fish."

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