NEW YORK'S effort to eliminate snagging is moving along very cautiously.
Department of Environmental Conservation fisheries officials want to return to "traditional" angling methods on the state's salmon and steelhead streams by 1993, but, realistically, insiders think it will take at least a year longer than that.
Right now, most fishing clubs have supported the snagging ban but business and tourism interests are a stumbling block, says Robert Lange, head of the DEC's Great Lakes Fisheries Unit.
"The prevailing sentiment on Lake Erie is that snagging's value has past and there are no objections to ending the practice. On Lake Ontario, there are objections from business interests," Lange said.
"We recognize that some communities have developed an economic dependency on the snagging fishery and we have to be sensitive to that," Lange added.
"Pulaski is the biggest single one. There, and to a lesser extent the Town of Newfane and Oak Orchard Creek area, a certain amount of displeasure has been expressed at our proposals."
The DEC figures it can "restore traditional angling" over a two year period, phasing out the remaining 17 "snagging" streams and shortening the two-month snagging season while mounting a massive educational effort to convince died-in-the-wool snaggers that salmon can be caught on baits, lures and flies.
That's going to be hard to do, for New York, itself, created a generation of salmon snaggers when it began the practice in 1970.
As a harvesting method, snagging has some merit. It works and fisheries managers were worried that the reluctant "bite" of spawning Pacific salmon would lead to real problems with rotting fish carcases.
The Pacific salmon moves into the streams to spawn, then die. They do not feed at that time, though they will slash at a bait or lure. And many anglers who would like to try to catch them in "traditional" ways are frozen out of their favorite holes by hordes of snaggers from mid-September to mid-November.
Snagging has appealed to a lot of folks who, for a variety of reasons, do not choose to fish the lake in boats. And their tourism dollars are important to places like Orleans County.
"In the last 10 years, fishing has been a boom here," says county tourism director Don White. "It is our primary destination for tourists, and the months of September and October -- the snag season -- is the best two months of the year for the tackle shops, bed and breakfasts, candy stores . . . ."
"We are willing to compromise," White said. "We've suggested allowing snagging from mid-September to mid-October. That will allow brown trout much better survival chances, and it won't disrupt the new businesses that are flourishing here."
Starting the phase-out in 1991 and spending two years in the educational effort, Lange says, should allow time for a switch.
"We think a significant number (of snaggers) will give traditional methods an honest try" and business will be able to make the transition in what they sell and how they market their services"
And the DEC now thinks it may have to file an environmental impact statement for any change in the angling laws that might affect the burgeoning sport fishing business.
If they do that, look for some public hearings on the EIS. And, for political reasons, there will be hearings on any proposals for a phase-out.
One community isn't waiting, however.
Next fall, the Black River will cease to be a snagging stream by the simple expedient of ending the salmon runs.
These fish are created fairly inexpensively and stocked as fingerlings in tributary streams; and the Town of Dexter is working independently with the DEC to stop that stocking. Instead, the hatchery will plant steelhead and Atlantic Salmon in an effort to attract a quality stream-fishing crowd.
That ploy could work other places too -- except that steelies and Atlantics are stocked as yearlings, not fingerlings, so have to be nurtured in the hatchery for far longer.
"If everyone wanted that we'd have to build a new hatchery," said Lange.
"Then there's the small matter of the boat fishery. The Chinook salmon is the No. 1, prime sport fish in Lake Ontario. We will do nothing to detract from that."