Extensive Surveys Guide VADGIF to future Trout Management
While most of the public comment period has drawn to a close, if you are a fisherman or woman in the state of Virginia, you may feel like reading up on the conclusions resulting from so many comments. Beginning in late 2013 the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries took on the process of creating the Stocked Trout Management Plan. Now in its draft form, the plan is easily accessible on DGIF’s website. Steve Reeser, one of the fish biologists heading up the project spoke about the motivation for the plan.
“I think it’s healthy for agencies to step back and look at the way we do things, or look at a program we have, in this case trout stocking.”
The agency has surveyed anglers many times in the past to learn what they thought.
What would be different this time was the extent of the survey, including ongoing public meetings across the state, and an advisory group made up of individuals who have specific interests in the stocked trout program.
One reason to do all the research was to find out what the Department could do to improve the stocking program. They also wanted to know how satisfied most anglers were with their trout fishing experiences.
Steve Reeser continued,
“How many fish that we stock out there are being caught, harvested? How much fishing pressure is there out there on the stocked trout waters?
The other thing that kind of drove going down this road to contract out with Virginia Tech to look at our program was declining license sales, trout license sales in particular. To fish for these stocked trout, you need a separate trout license in addition to your regular fishing license, and we’ve seen a decline in those license sales, fairly steady decline, particularly in the last ten years or so. The revenues coming in from those trout license sales are what fund the program so, it’s very important to us for the future of the program, you know, what do we need to do to recruit more people to fish for stocked trout?” The plan has lists of goals and objectives, so DGIF is thinking, if not yet implementing, of possibilities like designating sections of streams for young anglers, or scheduling releases close to school holidays.
Over fifteen hundred surveys were sent out to licensed anglers by mail, and during the on-line public comment period around one thousand comments came to the group working on the plan.
“So it’s a pretty large project. I’m not aware of one of this magnitude, of this size any other State Fish and Wildlife agency has conducted so it’s a pretty monumental project.”
One more instrumental piece to learning about the importance of trout in Virginia was this project’s advisory committee. It was made of men, women, and those with children’s interests at heart. Again Steve Reeser,
“We met several times over a year; had some very good, productive meetings. And these stakeholders represented across the spectrum of stock trout anglers. We had anglers that like to bait fish, like to harvest fish, like to eat fish. We had at the other end of the spectrum anglers that like to fish with artificial lures or flies, and practice catch and release, didn’t like to harvest fish. We had people that were educators that also liked to work with getting children involved with fishing. We had business owners that trout fishermen and trout fishing support, so they had an interest there in the program. We had people on this stakeholder advisory committee as far away as Big Stone Gap, to Augusta County, Amherst County, also Madison County even up into Fairfax and Northern Virginia. “
Some of the results of the surveys, and pieces of the draft Stocked Trout Management Plan are included in Part 2 of this story.