Coalition protests sterile trout stocking plan on Battenkill

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(Host) A coalition of conservation groups is protesting a state plan to stock sterile rainbow trout in the Battenkill.

The groups say the stocking will interfere with efforts to restore native trout to Vermont’s most famous trout stream.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports:

(Keese) The State spent five years and a million dollars researching why the Battenkill’s trout population crashed in the mid 1990s.

The answer they came up with was protective cover. Years of debris removal and other changes have left the River with few places for the fish to hide from predators.

So this month biologists spent $60,000 putting debris back in the river,

(Sound of water and birds)

(Keese) Steve Roy is a fish biologist for the Green Mountain National Forest which helped design the multi -year effort.

(Trout) “We placed about 90 trees in this. I believe its about 1,200 foot section of stream. It’s all placed along the stream margin, so when the flows get up there’s places for the fish to go and we’re anxious to come back next summer and see how the fish respond to our work.”

(Keese) Much of the money for the project came from the Orvis Company. The Manchester outdoor outfitter has made its reputation on the Battenkill.

But now Orvis and other funders are threatening to pull their money out for any future restoration work. That’s because the state fish and wildlife department is also proposing to stock the Battenkill with sterile rainbow trout while the restoration effort proceeds.

Perk Perkins the Orvis CEO, says hatchery fish will compete with native brown and brook trout for already scarce cover. Perkins says stocking has its place.

(Perkins) “There are rivers that can’t reproduce they don’t have the spawning habitat. They just can’t sustain a wild trout population. But here we have one of five rivers left in the entire state that have wild trout. And we need to protect that.”

(Keese) Perkins spoke at a press conference Monday with representatives of Trout Unlimited and the Battenkill Watershed alliance. All endorsed the long-term restoration plan. But they said stocking works against its success. They accused the state department of bowing to political pressure.

Fishing on the Battenkill has been restricted to catch and release only for years. And many local anglers are anxious to change that.

Under the state’s management proposal, anglers could keep the easily identifiable rainbows.

(Williams) “My feeling is that nobody knows what the problem is and we’re losing a whole generation of young folks that don’t fish the river cause there’s nothing to catch. We’ve lost the wild fishery and let’s stock it.”

(Keese) Tim Williams of Arlington started a petition calling for the river to be stocked. In a week he garnered nearly 400 signatures.

Opponents of stocking also have their petition, which they say has twice as many signatures.

The state will hold a public meeting on the issue in Manchester on Thursday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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