DNR: Weather caused poor trout stocking season

JOHN McCOY | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Trout from West Virginia’s hatcheries ran smaller than usual this year. DNR officials say last fall’s drought and subsequent hard winter created poor feeding conditions that stunted the fishes’ growth.

West Virginia’s recent trout-stocking season left lots of anglers scratching their heads.

They wondered why the trout they caught were smaller than usual, and why it seemed as though fewer fish had been stocked. Rumors began to float that budget cuts had forced Division of Natural Resources officials to cut back on stockings, and that some waters didn’t receive any fish at all.

It’s true that this year’s stockings didn’t live up to expectations, but the man in charge of the state’s trout program said the rumors are false.

“We had production problems this year,” said Mike Shingleton, the DNR’s head of coldwater fisheries. “Total hatchery production was down, and a lot of the fish we stocked were smaller than normal. But our production problems had nothing to do with the budget, and every single body of water on our stocking list received its allotment of fish.”

Allotments were smaller than normal because of what Shingleton called “a series of really bad breaks, all of them weather-related.”

“Last fall, we had drought conditions that kept us from transferring fish from one hatchery to another, and on top of that we had a really cold winter that kept the trout from growing at their normal pace,” he explained.

Without transfers to alleviate crowding in hatchery raceways, the trout couldn’t be fed as much as usual. Then, after the weather got really cold, the already-small trout didn’t grow much because they feed less actively when water temperatures dip into the low 40s. Even after water temperatures began to rise, Shingleton said the fish took quite a while to respond to better growing conditions.

“In a normal year, the fish we raise in our hatcheries run about 1.4 to 1.5 to the pound by May. This spring, they were running two or three to the pound as late as April. So yes, the fish we stocked were considerably smaller than fishermen are used to,” he said.

The smaller-than-normal fish helped fuel anglers’ perceptions about the stockings.

“We stock by the pound, not by numbers,” Shingleton said. “Each water is designated a certain poundage. Let’s say a stream or a lake was supposed to get 1,000 pounds during the season. In its early stockings, it got higher-than-normal numbers of smaller-than-normal fish. Later in the season, when we started getting decent growth, we had fewer fish to grow, so we never got to the total poundage that water was supposed to receive.”

Shingleton said agency officials had to cut this year’s “stocking factors,” the final allocations for each body of water, lower than has ever been necessary in the past.

In an ordinary year, the state’s seven hatcheries produce roughly 750,000 pounds of trout, which equates to about 1.1 million fish. Shingleton said year-to-year variations depend completely upon weather.

“Who knows? Next year we might end up with a bumper crop of trout,” he said. “If we get lots of rain this summer and fall followed by a mild winter and good growing conditions, no one will be complaining about the size or number of fish being stocked. In the end, it all depends on weather.”

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