To make trout fishing better for West Virginians, state natural resources officials have flipped the planning process on its head.
Instead of coming up with a plan and taking it to the public for input, Division of Natural Resources biologists are gathering anglers’ input first. On Tuesday, at the second in a series of six public meetings, trout anglers in the Kanawha Valley area got their chance to weigh in.
Eighteen fishermen attended the meeting, held at the DNR’s District 5 headquarters in Alum Creek.
Jim Hedrick, the DNR’s hatchery program manager, told the audience why they were there: to help the agency develop a plan to manage stocked- and wild-trout fisheries in the decade between 2020 and 2030.
Hedrick said DNR officials were enlisting the help of Vic DiCenzo, who recently developed a similar plan for the Virginia Department of Wildlife and Inland Fisheries. In a 50-minute PowerPoint presentation, DiCenzo gave an overview of West Virginia’s current management practices, most of which had evolved over the past 50 years.
“We’re starting with a blank slate,” DiCenzo said. “We’re doing it because we know some trout anglers are dissatisfied with the way we do things, and we want to update trout management so it better reflects the public’s values.”
The public meetings, he added, are designed to find out what those values are. That information will be combined with input from an online survey begun earlier this year, and a creel survey conducted by West Virginia University earlier this year.
DiCenzo said the information would be handled by two committees: a “Stakeholder Advisory Committee” composed primarily of anglers, and a “Technical Advisory Committee” composed primarily of biologists. The two committees will use input gleaned from the six public meetings to formulate a draft plan. Most of that work should be done by late next summer.
After the draft plan is written, DNR officials plan to hold another series of public meetings, probably next fall, so anglers can comment on it. The plan would then be tweaked and put in place by January 2021.
At the conclusion of his PowerPoint presentation, DiCenzo started taking comments, which filled the remainder of the 2-hour meeting and continued for an additional 40 minutes.
Some of the early comments took DNR officials to task for poor communication. One commenter remarked that posting information to the agency’s website was inadequate because so few people see it. He suggested that the DNR work with the Department of Highways to have meeting notices displayed on interstate highway marquee signs.
Other commenters focused more on the way trout fisheries are managed and policed. Suggestions included harsher penalties for trout poachers, hiring additional Natural Resource Police officers, acquiring landowner easements to increase anglers’ access to stocked stream sections, and expanding stockings of fingerling trout in selected Southern West Virginia creeks and rivers.
Other suggestions included the creation of a special wild-trout license stamp, proceeds from which would go specifically toward the management of streams capable of holding wild or reproducing trout; discontinuing the practice of stocking hatchery fish in streams that already hold wild fish, or using sterile “triploid” fish for that purpose; creating minimum size limits for native brook trout; reducing creel limits for native brook trout; and expanding the amount of habitat-improvement work being done on wild-trout waters.
One angler suggested the creation of an interactive trout-fishing map on the DNR’s website, one that would include wild and native trout streams in addition to stocked waters. The map, similar to those available to anglers in Pennsylvania, Virginia and other surrounding states, would include data on trout populations, catch rates and available trout species.
Another angler suggested that the DNR get rid of the stocking report updated each day during the trout-stocking season. Hedrick said public opinion historically has been split on the question, with half wanting to get rid of the report and half strongly supporting its presence.
Another commenter suggested the creation of a “Trout Fishing Cooperator’s Survey,” similar to the DNR’s “Turkey Hunting Cooperator’s Survey,” in which trout anglers would keep track of the number of days they fish, the waters they fish, the number of fish they catch, and other data that could help agency officials to better manage the resource.
The third of the six public meetings took place Wednesday night in Beckley. The rest will be held Oct. 7, 6-8 p.m., at the DNR’s Elkins Operations Center; Oct. 8, 7-9 p.m., at Percival Hall on the West Virginia University campus in Morgantown; and Oct. 9, 6-8 p.m., at the James Rumsey Technical Institute in Martinsburg.