Virginia TU calls for more attention to catch-and-release, native trout in DGIF stocking plan

In response to the Virginia Stocked Trout Management Plan recently proposed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), the Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited (VCTU) is calling for the establishment of more special regulation areas, as well as increased protection of native trout populations.

VCTU submitted its comments on October 1. They reflect TU’s long-standing commitment nationally to the fishing experience and health of trout fisheries rather than catch rates. These principles are evident in the survey results in the draft plan itself, which found that angler satisfaction is closely tied to “non-catch aspects of fishing (e.g. being outdoors, relaxing experience, being in a natural setting).”

The comments recommend a management policy to increase catch-and-release opportunities through the establishment of more Delayed Harvest and Special Regulation Areas. The council also stated that the management of stocked trout should support the restoration of native brook trout, the state’s official freshwater fish.

The recommendations are in line with the latest Chesapeake Bay Agreement goals to restore brook trout populations. DGIF is identified as the lead agency in Virginia for implementing this strategy.

Among the specific recommendations VCTU made in its comments are:

  • An end to stocking hatchery trout over native populations. Currently, the plan lacks clarity on when and where the stocking of trout does not conflict with a strategy to protect and restore native trout populations. To clarify the situation, we believe terms such as “wild,” “native,” “sterile,” and “Southern Appalachian brook trout” should appear in a glossary and be used consistently throughout the plan. (VCTU provided recommendations for definitions in its letter submission.)
  • The adoption of the term “repatriated trout” to describe populations of brook trout that have been reintroduced to their historic range through partnerships with DGIF. This term could help to avoid any confusion with traditional stocking practices.
  • The use of a classification system to identify wild trout waters based upon sound science. The Virginia Water Quality Standards (9-VAC-25-260) classify streams based upon dissolved oxygen, pH, and maximum temperatures and include DGIF stream class descriptions, as well. VCTU recommends that all wild natural trout streams identified “Class I” or “Class ii” be removed from the stocking program. Furthermore, the council believe trout streams must be monitored for water quality and habitat conditions and reclassified as warranted.
  • A section affirming that all proposed private trout stockings be approved only if they are consistent with the management plan of protecting native populations, controlling the spread of fish diseases, and avoiding the establishment of exotic species in streams where they would be undesirable.

In additional to VCTU’s comments, several TU chapters have also submitted comments.

DGIF is still accepting comments for the Stocked Trout Management Plan. You can learn more about the process, including the dates of public meetings, by visiting http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/trout/management-plan/.

Questions about VCTU’s comments may be directed to Tom Benzing, the council’s conservation chair, at benzintr@nulljmu.edu.

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The Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited is made up of representatives of the state’s 16 TU chapters.