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DEC proposes controversial fishing regulations
A good friend of mine and a fisheries professional emailed me the other day to explain that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is proposing a statewide, blanket change in its sport-fishing regulations. In a discussion with a regional fisheries manager, my friend learned that the Bureau of Fisheries plans to close the season that allows the taking of trout on September 30, but will permit no-kill fishing statewide until April 1, the next opening day. If this regulation is put into effect, will there be any more traditional opening days?
Readers of The River Reporter, may recall my column of October 25, 2017, titled, “A chance at fall spawners,” in which I explained why I believe the rivers that feed the New York City, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reservoirs in the western Catskills, remain open until October 31. In my view, the four reservoirs that comprise the Delaware system—Cannonsville, Pepacton, Neversink and Rondout—are highly underutilized, yet all support robust salmonid fisheries. Each fall, the brown trout that grow very large and very fat in those reservoirs begin their spawning runs. Since the trout in those reservoirs are not harvested in significant numbers, my plan would extend the sport fisheries in the West Branch of the Delaware, East Branch of the Delaware, Neversink River and Rondout Creek, a month longer than the normal closing date of September 30. That would allow anglers that don’t fish the reservoirs, and few do, the opportunity to fish for and perhaps hook a very large trout, perhaps on a fly.
From what my friend told me, the rationale behind the new regulations is to provide anglers with more fishing opportunity. Wow, you might say, now we can fish whenever we want and wherever we want, even for large trout on their spawning beds!
But at what cost?
Several years ago, my friends Bill Dorato and Hideko Coon invited me to go along with them to observe several large brown trout on their redds actually spawning. They took me to a very small tributary to one of the main rivers that feeds a western Catskill/DEP reservoir. This particular tributary was about eight-feet wide, and there were several brown trout in the eight- to 10-pound range actually in the act of spawning.
Watching those beautiful fish go through the processes necessary to maintain future generations was a special experience. Looking back at the few minutes we spent there, I can see no rationale for implementing regulations, no-kill or otherwise, that would allow fishing while trout are on their spawning grounds, especially in small, tributary streams.
I know that fly fishermen as a group are decent caring folks; they’re extremely protective of their trout, conservationists and environmentalists through and through. Yet, the lure of very large trout, visible and accessible at close range is a powerful incentive, which in my experience will attract all kinds of fisherman, perhaps some with less than sporting intentions. Exposing trout while on their redds in the act of spawning, in very small streams, in my opinion is not a sound fisheries-management practice, quite the contrary. Frankly, it is hard for me as a fisheries biologist to rationalize where the idea came from. Minimizing regulations?
Fishing for trout in compromised conditions while in the act of spawning invites snagging, foul hooking and if nothing more, harassment of large fish already under the stresses associated with the reproductive process. Hopefully the Bureau of Fisheries will re-evaluate its proposal and continue to prohibit fishing when trout are spawning, especially in very small streams.