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Bill Hilts Jr.: Covid-19 precautions mean changes in fish stocking plans

Bill Hilts Jr.: Covid-19 precautions mean changes in fish stocking plans

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Fishing has been a safe activity to help people get outside during the pandemic.

One of the real salvations during the past year has been the outdoors, providing an escape, therapy, relaxation and recreation. That doesn’t mean changes weren’t required to keep people safe. While things are getting better, the impact of Covid-19 is still being felt, providing a reminder that our difficult times are not over yet.

With spring’s arrival, fish stocking will be taking place throughout the state. Inland streams and lakes in Western New York will begin to receive trout stockings starting this week. As in 2020, volunteers cannot assist the stocking truck drivers. The potential of exposing drivers to Covid-19 becomes a concern when numerous people are on-site at a stocking location.

With the inland opening day April 1, Department of Environmental Conservation hatchery personnel will only identify a body of water and what week it will be stocked once the season begins. Specific locations and exact dates and times will not be given, to avoid crowded situations.

“Similar to last year, hatchery staff will work long days, but DEC is confident that all stockings will be completed and completed on time, as long as weather conditions/water temperatures do not greatly hinder efforts.” said Steve Hurst, Chief of the Bureau of Fisheries with the DEC.

Keep that in mind when it comes to urban area stockings in places such as Hyde Park Lake and Gill Creek in Niagara Falls; Oppenheim Park Pond in Wheatfield; Main Park Pond in the Village of Clarence; Sprague Brook Park (Foote Road Pond, A and B Pond, and Veteran’s Pond) in Concord; and Westwood Park Pond in Lancaster. These will all be stocked in April.  

Hats off to the hatchery personnel raising the fish and the truck drivers doing the transporting. They are all going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure there are plenty of fish to catch.

“The new Trout Stream Management Plan called for significant adjustments in rearing and stocking,” Hurst said. “DEC has made great strides toward accomplishing our objectives. Most hatcheries were able to meet the 9-inch minimum size as a stocking objective. Fish are still being inventoried, but at this time we estimate that 90 percent of the yearling fish stocked in streams in 2021 will be at least 9 inches long.”

According to the plan, all stream stockings are to consist of fish that are 12 inches or longer in length as 10% of the total. Hurst said DEC will meet this objective in 87% of the stocked streams.

“Coming this far this fast is quite an accomplishment,” he said. “It speaks volumes about DEC’s hatchery staff and their commitment to delivering on the plan for anglers.” 

For safety reasons, the trout sampling events usually conducted in Naples Creek (Ontario County) or Cold Brook (Steuben County) at this time of year have been canceled. These events have attracted large groups of people since the 1960s, and it was decided to err on the side of caution. Maybe next year.

Covid-19 created a new group of anglers in 2020, and that could continue to increase in 2021. Last year, fishing license sales were up 18%, and this does not consider junior anglers under 16 who do not need a license. Not everyone knows how to fish, and not everyone had a mentor to lead the way.

Hurst said that the DEC is planning to host virtual events in the coming weeks, including “how to” sessions focused on the interactive trout stream map and the new trout stream regulations. He also noted Facebook Live segments in which viewers can learn about beginning trout fishing techniques, watch DEC stock a stream and learn about an impressive habitat improvement project done by Trout Unlimited and DEC.  “Like” the DEC’s Facebook page to find out scheduled dates. 

One of the focal areas for this social media engagement will be with the new fishing regulations that will be enacted on April 1 for the inland waters. Hurst said that the new regulations will be posted to the state register on Wednesday.

“As per the outcome of the New York State Trout Stream Management Plan, the new regulation structure will be much simpler than in years past,” he said. “Currently there are 26 types of special regulations in effect for managing trout streams. Come April 1, 2021, the number of special regulations will be reduced to four.

“Some exceptions apply to brook trout waters on Long Island and DEC grandfathered previously-established catch-and-release reaches, but for the most part, the five categories and the statewide designation are simplified into three harvest limits.”

Although the new regulations are simpler, they do represent a somewhat dramatic change for anglers, and they will take some getting used to. Hurst said anglers will also be able to use DEC's new interactive trout stream fishing map to locate various fishing opportunities. The map provides one-stop shopping for information on access points, public fishing rights, reach regulations and stocking.

Hurst said that the DEC hopes to post publicly accessible stream reaches with new signage in 2021 to inform anglers of the rules in the sections they are fishing. 

Continuing with efforts to make fishing simpler and more enjoyable, DEC is eliminating advertising, stories and reporting from the Fishing Regulations Guide and instead is returning focus to the fishing laws and regulations.

“Special regulations will still be grouped by DEC Region, but not by county,” Hurst said. “Instead, lakes, streams/rivers and trout streams will be grouped and sorted alphabetically. This reduces the redundant listing of waters and, best of all, anglers will no longer need to know the county name when fishing an unfamiliar area; they can just look up the water body.” 

Trout streams are sorted alphabetically, after being divided into the management category. This eliminates the need to continually repeat the limit for each reach.

“The full-color setup is also eliminated, using black, grey, white and blue to make for clearer text,” Hurst said. “Fish identification and our popular Angler Achievement Award program have been retained.”

Remember, there are different regulations for the Great Lakes tributaries. The new regulations should be up shortly at    

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