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To Stock or Not to Stock

By Eric Palmer, Director of Fisheries, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department

As a fish biologist and director for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, I am very accustomed to having members of the public question why our department does the things it does. In the United States, fish and wildlife are public resources owned by everyone, so it is appropriate for everyone to have an interest and a voice in fish and wildlife management. In Vermont, the right to hunt and fish is guaranteed in the state constitution, and the opportunity to catch trout, hunt partridge, and see osprey is part of what contributes to our quality of life in the Green Mountain State.

Fish stocking is an activity that receives a good deal of public attention every year. People call us to ask if the fish have been stocked yet; they organize kids' fishing derbies; and they volunteer to help us get the fish out. We also hear complaints from people who think we are stocking too few fish, or too many.

To step back for a moment, the mission of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife is the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont. Fish stocking falls into a suite of "management actions" that also includes collecting scientific data, conserving and restoring fish habitat, setting fishing regulations, providing public outreach, providing public access to lakes and rivers, and preventing the spread of aquatic nuisance species.

I grew up fishing for perch off of my grandparents' dock, and catching brook trout in the stream behind my parents' camp. I know now that some of those brook trout were stocked, but I didn't know or care when I was 10 years old. Over the years I learned to identify aquatic insects; I paid attention to water flows and temperatures; and I started to look for fin clips and other indications of whether the trout I was catching were wild or stocked. I preferred the wild fish then. I still do.

When you catch a wild walleye, lake trout or brookie you have living proof that the water they came from has suitable habitat for all of the life-stages of that species. It is like holding an intact ecosystem in your hand.

Does my love of wild fish mean that I am against stocking fish in Vermont? No. Like most of the Vermonters that we have surveyed, I feel that it is a responsibility of the Fish and Wildlife Department to manage for both wild and stocked fish.

Stocked fish serve several important purposes. They are used to restore populations of native fish that have declined or disappeared such as the lake trout in Lake Champlain and the Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River. They are used to improve fisheries in lakes and ponds where spawning habitat may be limited. And stocked fish are used to provide fishing opportunities in waters that have few or no wild fish because of habitat degradation.

Some folks have said that stocking fish is not biology, because it is done to satisfy public desires or "politics." By that logic, building bridges for public transportation would not be engineering, and running schools for public education would not be teaching. The truth is that fish stocking, like much of government work, is a blend of public service and science.

Whether we are restoring a native species of fish that hasn't been seen in the rivers since colonial times, or providing the opportunity for a father and daughter to catch a brook trout and some lasting memories in a small pond near their home, there is an important place for fish stocking in Vermont.

Which brings me back to our department's mission: the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont. We are committed to conserving and restoring aquatic habitat, managing for healthy wild fish populations, and providing fishing opportunities. And we never forget that we are doing it for the people of Vermont, now and for generations to come.


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