In The New Year

RIDEM describes itself as “very much focused on promoting sustainability and stewardship … for our environment, including animals” (ProvJourn 5/19/02). This stewardship includes, as it must, “cold-water fish and habitat” and quite specifically extends to “identifying and protecting cold-water fisheries.” DEM goes so far as to state that even “if no trout were found but it was determined that the area should support trout” that water is to be designated as a cold-water fishery (DEM 5/2009). DEM has proceeded in support of its own mandate by conducting freshwater surveys, measuring a number of variables including water temperature, ph, and the presence of wild brook trout. A summary of the work done over the last twenty years has just been published (Libby, 2013). Fisheries biologist Alan Libby and his crew found wild brook trout in nine of ten of the State’s drainages or watersheds. Despite the wide distribution indicated by this summary statement, DEM notes that the brook trout in RI is a species “greatly in need of conservation” (DEM 2005).

Enter Trout Unlimited? The national organization bearing this name has set as its mission the conservation, protection, and restoration of North America’s cold-water fisheries. Local chapters of Trout Unlimited throughout the US subscribe to the parent organization’s mission and are guided by its policies. However, what TU’s mission actually means has been variously interpreted by local chapters. So much so that TU’s national Leadership Council found it necessary in 2011 to resolve that TU “is opposed to chapters…stocking of non-native hatchery trout on top of native trout populations” and to again communicate this to local chapters this year. (TROUT, Summer 2013) This directive acknowledges the deleterious effects of stocking cited in the scientific literature.

Enter TU225? This once vibrant local chapter has in past been an advocate for wild trout in RI. Chapter policy documents from the past state that “the priorities should focus on wild trout”, that “natural reproduction” is to be “favored”, and that where “the population is self-sustaining” it be “managed to support the conservation and protection” of that population. For some time since that era, TU225 has been enamored of angling for the truck loads of hatchery trout that DEM regularly delivers to the ponds and streams of RI, including those harboring remnant populations of wild trout. The chapter continues to thumb its nose at its parent organization by endorsing the stockings and even participating in the work of stocking. TU225 has been high-jacked! Does it not seem peculiar to the membership at large that its leadership is at odds with TU National, and that a grass-roots entity (PRIBT) has arisen in RI to promote the mission of Trout Unlimited?

Enter 2014. Will RIDEM recognize its internal contradictions, those that pit its hatchery operations and stocking practices against its publically stated mandate to judiciously steward our environment? Will TU225 wake up, get on board with its own mission, and become a part of the solution instead of, paradoxically and perversely, part of the problem confronting wild trout in RI? Perhaps in the new year all those who do have an interest in the “conservation, protection, and restoration” of wild brookies in RI can be aligned and allied. You can count on PRIBT to be part of the conservation.

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