Winter Survival

By Brian O’Connor
R.L.Hunt, Wisconsin Fisheries Biologist, spent 40 years studying brook trout stream habitat improvement and brook trout management. He developed the concept of limiting factors and felt that determining what factors were responsible for limiting brook trout populations in each stream was a prerequisite to any successful attempt at stream improvement. He discovered that each age class of brook trout were subject to differing limiting factors. Some stream reaches were perfect for yearling trout while others had habitat more suitable for larger, more mature fish. The factor which he deemed most important for large brook trout survival was the presence of suitable overwintering habitat. Stocking large hatchery fish into the upper Wood River throughout the fall [OCT.] and winter[FEB.] certainly has a negative effect on larger brook trout attempting to overwinter there. It is known that 40% of all salmonid species will die shortly after spawning. Those which survive go into winter in a diminished state and need deep protected lies to survive. Two year old brook trout, after spawning, now must compete with well fed, recently stocked hatchery fish. These larger brook trout cannot find enough suitable overwintering habitat in the uppermost tributaries. Brook trout young emerge from gravels in late February and early March. The first stocking occurs in mid March at a level far exceeding the limited carrying capacity of the river. These stocked fish are of a size which the river is unable to naturally produce. Is it not probable that the starving stockers eat large quantities of brook trout fry and everything else that they can find? These are direct negative impacts of stocking over native brook trout. The indirect negative effect of stocking is the impact of the hoards of anglers lured to the river by the highly publicized addition of hatchery fish which goes on year round in the upper Wood. The physical impact to the trails, stream-banks, riparian vegetation, aquatic vegetation, and the stream-bed itself is apparent. The entire ecology of this river has been impacted to the point that it is now simply an adjunct hatchery pen. Fishermen need to take responsibility for the mess which has been created. A wild brook trout management plan for the upper Wood would allow brook trout populations to rebound to whatever level is now possible and also allow the river to begin the process of healing itself. This re-wilding has occurred in other systems when stocking was terminated. The National Park and National Forests have terminated all stocking within their boundaries. Several states have also begun favoring native populations. Why is RI always the last state to move. The time is at hand. Please support ecological native fish management in RI!

5 comments to Winter Survival

  • Zach

    I absolutely agree with Frank.

  • brian o'connor

    I think it’s inevitable

  • brian o'connor

    Keep commenting Frank, It’s nice to know that others get it.

  • Frank Barbato

    Although I’ve fished for trout for more than 50 years, I rarely trout fish in RI precisely because of the sad scene you so
    aptly describe in your “Winter Survival” essay. Instead, when I have the (frequent) urge to fish for wild trout I drive 50 miles to a wild trout watershed in Connecticut that that state – in its enlightened wisdom – has seen fit to set a aside as a “Wild Trout Management” stream – i.e.. no stocking and catch and release only. The state of RI has stocked millions of hatchery trout into Wood River and yet only one species survives as a self sustaining population – tenaciously, tenuously and miraculously – our own native brook trout. Whenever I catch a state trout in a wild trout stream – no matter how large – I am always saddened. Catching a state trout proves nothing – only that the misguided hand of man has been hard at work, meddling and manipulating and degrading and extirpating an irreplaceable treasure. When I catch a wild trout – no matter how tiny – I’m always heartened, because I know that something good and proper is happening in the watershed and that my grandsons’ future is a little brighter and that humanity may yet prevail.

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