Monday, August 28, 2017

Wild Trout Summit Part II

Let me start by saying this may be a little long and dry, but I think it is important, and interesting.  So if you can muster the attention span, read on:

First, I want to preface this by saying I am in no way “slamming” PFBC with this by any stretch of the imagination, and I sincerely hope this does not come across that way.  I personally know a good number of their staff, and have a lot of respect for their knowledge, hard work, and dedication.  We have what we have in the way of wild trout today in large part because of their efforts.  I believe we primarily have the same goals in mind, but that we just need to find the right path that gets us there. 

Given the recent buzz/explosion of comments and discussions regarding the recent Wild Trout Summit that was hosted by PFBC Saturday, I thought it might be interesting to publish some results from a couple angler survey’s that were published several years back (actually 10 years or more at this point).  While these surveys are a little dated, I suspect if they were conducted today, the results would be very similar.  I’ve provided the links to the actual surveys at the bottom for those wishing to read them in their entirety. 

Most of the recent discussion on social media post-summit has been in regards to PFBC’s stocking program.  Specifically, the issue of stocking trout over populations of wild trout, and the fact the issue went largely un-discussed during the Summit.  While I and I assume most that read this blog, probably feel that stocking streams that support a healthy population of wild fish is a bad idea; I think it is important to take a step back to view the bigger picture.  We as fly anglers tend to surround ourselves with others who enjoy the sport of trout fishing in a similar fashion.  However, this tends to lead us to the false assumption that we are in the majority, we are not, not even close.  While this does not make us wrong when it comes to our beliefs in regards to wild trout management, it does shine a small light on the enormity of the dilemma that an agency such as PFBC faces when trying to balance resource management from both a populous and preservation perspective.  Given the agency’s reliance on license fees as their prime source of income, we must come to terms with the fact that there are, and most likely will always be, some decisions that are made which are not based purely on science but that cater to the majority.  There are of course ways to get to more science based decisions, but that is going to take some work on all our parts.  More on that later.

There are a few surveys out there, but the two I found interesting were 1.) Pennsylvania Trout Fishing Survey conducted by Responsive Management (2008) and 2.) Angler Use, Harvest and Economic Assessment on Trout Stocked Streams in Pennsylvania by PFBC, USGS, and PSU (2005).  The Responsive Management Survey (RMS) was conducted by calling 1,562 PA license holders while the interagency study was conducted by interviewing approximately 4,000 anglers on stocked trout waters during the opening weekend and then at times post-opening weekend.  I won’t go into all the details of sampling methodology as they are clearly outlined in the surveys if you want to read them.  As with all surveys and statistics, they need to be taken with a “grain of salt”.  However, both surveys, as well as others I have read revealed pretty similar results and I feel they fairly accurately captured the attributes of PA anglers. 

Let’s start with something I touched on briefly in the last paragraph which is the fact that we as conservation minded fly fishers are definitely in the minority when it comes to anglers in PA.  In the survey conducted by RMS, 82% of total anglers surveyed fished bait at least some of the time, and 40% fished flies some of the time.  I.e. there is some cross over between those who fish bait and also fly fish, but the majority of anglers are fishing bait.  The majority 53% preferred bait, 16% preferred artificial lures, and 15% preferred flies.  In the interagency study, similar results were obtained (Bait only 68%, 14% combination of tackle, 9% flies only, 8% artificial lures only). 

A question was asked at the beginning of the Summit of how many TU members were in the room.   Unsurprisingly to me, well over 90% (estimate) of the people in the room raised their hands.   In the RMS study though, only 35% of those surveyed indicated they were a member of any type of sportsman’s organization, and this included organizations such as NRA, Ducks Unlimited, B.A.S.S., or “local” or “state” club or group, which was actually the highest response at 23%.  Only 7% of those surveyed were members of TU. 

Another interesting stat from the RMS report is that only 32% of anglers surveyed fished more than 25 days a year and 40% fished 10 days or less.  I think we can all agree that this does not described the majority of “us”.  The interagency report showed a similar trend.  Out of the 3,984 anglers surveyed, 32% fished 10 days or less and 39% fished more than 25 days.  “Opening Day” also seemed to be extremely important to a large number of the anglers surveyed in both surveys.  The RMS study also indicated that 49% of anglers only travel 15 miles or less (one way) to fish.  If there ever was a list of stats that is the complete opposite of myself, I think this is it.

Now let’s look at the frequency of fishing for stocked trout.  The RMS study indicated that 34% of PA trout anglers only fished for stocked trout, and that 93% of anglers fish stocked water at least half of the time.  Only 1% of anglers surveyed said they never fish for stocked trout.   When asked what percentage of your trout fishing trips are made to unstocked or wild trout waters, 34% responded none, 39% (1-25%), 5% (26-49%), 16% (50%), 2% (51-75%), 4% (76-99%), and 1% “All” trips.  The interagency study showed that a combined 1,168 angler hours/mile of stream were exerted on stocked trout streams.  This was compared to a 2004 study on wild trout streams which showed only 82 hours/mile.  Basically, confirming something we all have observed, that stocked streams receive way more angling pressure. 

From the RMS study:  When asked of the importance of stocked trout, 88% of surveyed anglers stated that in-season trout stockings are important, most saying they were very important.  When choosing a fishing location, the top ranked consideration (50%) stated trout stocking.  However, 19% of anglers stated that non-stocked waters were very important when choosing a fishing location.   Also interesting was that 37% of surveyed anglers stated that a reduction in stocking would make it very likely they would not purchase a license, and 29% said it would make them somewhat likely.   Obviously, stocked trout are important to a majority of the PA angling public.  With PFBC in the current finical situation they are in, a license reduction of 37% would be devastating. 

That brings me to my next point:  I don’t believe most of us are lobbying for the complete cessation of stocking.  It is the stocking of trout over abundant wild populations.  Interestingly, this is somewhat expressed by the anglers surveyed by RMS.  While 52% of anglers supported stocking over wild trout, 41% said they were opposed to stocking over waters that have a high abundance of wild trout, encouraging!  Support for stocking over wild trout did increase slightly “when discussing stocking trout in waters that have a high abundance of wild trout but which are in areas of the state that have few stocked trout waters: 57% support, and 33% oppose, stocking waters that have a high abundance of wild trout in areas of the state where there are few stocked waters”.   Additionally, when asked to rate on a scale of 0-10 the importance of making conditions more favorable for wild trout, a mean of 9.07 was obtained.  Stocking trout came in with a lower mean, but still relatively high at 8.65.  Also interesting was that even though a majority of anglers surveyed regarded stocked trout as important, “they more often think that wild trout should have priority over stocked trout than the other way around:  44% think priority should go to wild trout, while 35% think it should go to stocked trout (18% are neutral)”.  While that 35% number is disturbing, the 44% number is somewhat encouraging.  As to the 18%, that screams lack of education on the subject to me, as I’m not sure how you could be “neutral” to that question. 

When it comes to the harvesting of fish, both surveys showed that “Catch and Release” has become more of the “norm” than in years past.  I don’t really feel it is necessary to go into the stats, they are in there if you want to dig them out.  One particular stat that I did find interesting in the Interagency Study was that despite C&R, an estimated 2,497,523 trout were harvested in 2005.  I personally have no idea what a sustainable harvest number is for all the trout streams in PA, but I suspect that level of harvest probably wouldn’t be sustainable if we didn’t have some stocking. 

When it comes to out of state anglers, there doesn’t appear to be many (6%), and those that do come, are primarily from neighboring states.  This is most likely due to proximity to the borders or owning a cabin in Pennsylvania.  We definitely do not attract out of state anglers like Montana or the other western states.  That really isn’t surprising to me when you compare the two fisheries.  With that being said though, I feel we do have some great resources here that could compete with the western streams on some level, especially if we focused more on wild trout.  After all, why would you want to come from more than 100 miles away to fish for stocked trout?  It appears even our local anglers wouldn’t drive more than 15 miles for them. 

So where does all this leave us?  Well I think it is pretty clear that stocked trout are not going away anytime soon.  Then again, I don’t believe many of us are advocating for that.  I think what “we” and according to these surveys, a good chunk of PA anglers would like to see is better policy as it relates to stocking trout, especially in wild trout waters in PA.  Stocked trout have a place in PA, but it is not water with highly abundant wild trout.  Also, while catch and release is becoming ever more popular, it would take some serious research to ascertain what amount of harvest could be tolerated on these wild trout streams.  I don’t believe all catch and release is the answer.  I don’t begrudge someone for keeping a few fish each year.  Now the guys that fill their freezer and throw them in the garden each spring is a different story. 

How do we get there?  For starters, by doing what we did Saturday……getting all parties in a room and discussing it.  I applaud all those who showed up Saturday.  I have been to a lot of these types of meetings and can honestly say the turnout was extremely impressive.  I am sure it sent a strong message. 

While I am no fan of politics, anyone that has done half the reading I have on PA and US history, knows that politics have been a major player in environmental history since day 1, and they are not going to magically go away.  What that means is that we need to make it known (respectfully) to our politicians the issues at hand and what the possible solutions are.  Additionally, we need to show the benefits, both environmental and economical, to the presence of wild trout fisheries in our state.  The education also cannot begin and end with our politicians.  Our fellow anglers, and I’m talking about all anglers, need to be educated.  I personally don’t care how anyone fishes.  To each their own.  We as anglers are a small constituency, too small to divide ourselves into factions over the fact that some of us fish with bait and others use bits of fur and feather.  We also need to get more people outside.  As I stated in my last post on this issue, people will not care about a resource they don’t use.  The RMS study indicated something I think we are all well aware of, that only 30% of the anglers surveyed were under the age of 35.  That doesn’t bode well for the future of our sport.  We need to garner enough support for wild trout that gives PFBC the ability to move in the direction we want.  Whether we like it or not, the current funding structure is businesslike.  As such, the “business” will cater to what the masses demand. 

I am encouraged by the amount of interest this topic has generated recently, and hope it continues.  We all need to work together to accomplish our goals.    

I’m sure there is stuff I left out, but it is getting late and I have been working on this for a few hours now.  I also apologize for any typos that I may have missed and hope I laid out most of this fairly concisely and clearly.  I’m sure not everyone will agree with all of it, but I hope that most of it is not too off putting. 

Again, I’ve posted the links to the surveys if you wish to really dive into them.  I hope I transcribed all the stats properly, I believe I have. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Wild Trout Summit - August 26, 2017

Pennsylvania has a long and complicated history when it comes to trout.  Before the days of big lumber in the late 1800s, native brook trout abound in most of the waters throughout the Commonwealth.  In order to get their logs to market, loggers straightened and cleared stream banks, removed "debris" that would cause their logs to get hung up, and dammed creeks to flood logs downstream, scouring streambeds in the process.  Then came the massive forest fires, runoff, and associated siltation.  Then the mining, which left a legacy of metals contaminated water we are still dealing with.  Lets also not forget the overfishing, sometimes via dynamite, which decimated what was left of our trout.

Since those days, trout have made a significant recovery due largely to efforts by State agencies, volunteer groups, and private citizens.  However, we still have a long road ahead of us, and it seems new issues are constantly on the horizon (urban sprawl, global warming, energy development, invasive species, etc.).

Initially, stocking trout in our decimated water ways was one answer to restoring our trout populations.  Those days are now behind us for the most part.  I've always had a love/hate, or proportionally, a hate/love, relationship with stocked trout.  They have a place in our water ways that are still marginal as trout water, they also provide an excellent resource for children to cut their teeth on as they learn fish.  I think we can all agree though, that a self sustaining wild fishery is a far superior option to a "put and take" fishery.  Troutbitten recently published a good article on why wild trout matter, and I encourage you to read it.

Recognizing the value of wild trout, PFBC (cosponsored by TCO Fly Shops and PATU) hosted a Wild Trout Summit today in State College.  The turnout was impressive to say the least.  Well over 200 people were in attendance from all walks of life, with a common interest/goal, to protect and promote wild trout in Pennsylvania.  Some know that in my "other life" I am an environmental geologist for the State, I've also been active with TU for many years, and been traipsing the globe chasing wild trout for a lot longer.   Throughout the years I've had the pleasure to meet some of best and brightest in each of these endeavors, and I am pleased to say, a large number of them were in the room today.  The biologists, geologists, engineers, teachers, TU members/officers, writers, photographers, guides, and numerous other professions, all coming together, because in the end, we are all ultimately anglers trying to use our collective knowledge to solve the problems of wild trout restoration and management.

Numerous presentations were given regarding the research currently being conducted on wild trout, challenges ahead, regulatory protections, and possible solutions to current and potential future issues.  Overall, I believe the Summit was a success.   Based on what I saw today, I am optimistic for the future of wild trout in Pennsylvania.  A LOT of work has and continues to be done, and a LOT more is needed.   But it gives me hope for the future. 

I encourage everyone to get involved, especially in regards to educate not only other anglers, but even non-anglers as to the importance of wild trout and their habitat.  I also encourage everyone to take a kid or a friend fishing, camping, or hiking along some of our wonderful trout streams.  After all, no one will care about a resource they don't know about or appreciate.  In today's indoor/electronic society, it is more important than ever to reconnect with nature.   When it comes to wild trout restoration, I think of a line from Henry Shoemaker's introduction to his work Eldorado Found (1916) says it best, "This is a pioneer work, incomplete in many ways", but I believe we are taking steps in the right direction.

PFBC posted the video of the entire event on their website here.