State will bow to public opinion on Battenkill trout

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(Host) The state commissioner of fish and wildlife says he will bow to public opinion on whether to stock sterile rainbow trout in the Battenkill.

He says the state only made the suggestion to keep the fishing public happy.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) The Bennington County anglers and business owners who held a press conference last week about the state’s proposal were not happy.

They claim stocking a thousand sterile rainbows a year will interfere with the greater goal of restoring the Battenkill as a wild trout stream.

The protest was led by members of Trout Unlimited and Leigh ‘Perk’ Perkins Jr., the CEO of the Orvis Company. The Manchester-based fishing outfitter threatened to pull its financial support if stocking goes ahead.

But after a hearing in Manchester last week, fish and wildlife commissioner Wayne Laroche says he got the message.

(Laroche) “The public at that meeting was I’d say four to one against stocking rainbows on that stream. We’re absolutely going to listen to that. We also have some time here to allow written comment. We’ll take it all into account. But right now, in terms of that meeting the public spoke pretty clearly that they didn’t want the rainbow trout stocked, so we heard em.”

(Keese) Laroche says the state saw the easily identifiable rainbows as a way to satisfy anglers who want to catch and keep fish from the river. The Battenkill will keep its catch and release restriction on native trout until their numbers bounce back.

Scientists believe a recent crash in the river’s wild trout population is from a loss of protective cover the fish need. This summer they began hauling dead trees into the river to create pools and escape areas for the trout.

The state is also asking landowners and others to get involved by planting trees along the banks and volunteering for projects like this summer’s.

Some residents at last week’s meeting doubted whether the restoration will work with the heavy summer traffic from tubers and paddlers. Tom Williams of Arlington calls them fiberglass predators.

(Williams) “We’re putting millions of dollars in the river to replace woody debris that these folks have removed.”

(Keese) Commissioner Laroche says it appears that paddlers have removed obstacles.

(Laroche) “Of course, navigation is legal and people have a right to float the stream, but there are probably some ways that we could coordinate the removal of hazards from the stream, without jeopardizing navigation or the habitat cover for trout.”

(Keese) Laroche says despite the controversy over the rainbows, most people seem to support the restoration effort.

The state will be taking comments on its draft management proposal through October 21st and issue its final plan sometime before spring.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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