As Vermont’s trout season opens, an environmental group is calling on the state to reduce the number of brook trout that can be taken.
Brook trout are Vermont’s only native trout. The brown trout and rainbow trout that do well here were originally stocked ago many years ago by fisheries managers.
And to complicate things further, the brook trout is not actually a trout, but a char, sort of a trout cousin. But that didn’t stop Vermont in 1978 from naming Salvelinus fontinalis, aka the brook trout, as the official state cold-water fish.
Anglers are now allowed to keep 12 brook trout a day, compared to a limit of six of the other species found here.
Clark Amadon of the Vermont chapter of Trout Unlimited, a non-profit dedicated to maintaining habitat for trout, says that’s too many. He wants the limit reduced to six to conform with the restrictions on other trout.
“The ravages of what may be happening with climate change is somewhat unknown and if we are going to be seeing more drought events, perhaps even more high water events and unpredictability in that, the reduction in creel limits would perhaps add some stability to the population,” he said.
Brook trout are dwindling throughout their traditional range.
But a recent study shows the fish are doing well in Vermont. Rich Kirn, the fisheries program manager at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, says in streams where brookies are abundant, angler pressure doesn’t actually harm the population.
“And there’s been studies that have shown – there was a recent one in Pennsylvania – that even going to catch and release in these brook trout streams, really made no difference in the numbers and size of fish,” he said. “And that’s because Mother Nature is really what drives these population… over winter conditions, spring run-off, and then we have droughts in the summer.”
Kirn noted fewer anglers are out there, and more of them practice catch and release. Those that do want to take some fish rarely catch 12 brook trout at a time, he said.
“So by reducing the limit to fish, it doesn’t seem to us that you’re really going to be influencing in a significant way what people are harvesting at this point,” he said.
Kirn said it’s more effective to focus on habitat to make sure these native Vermonters have the cool, clean water they need to survive.
Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Board would need to make the change in fishing regulation. That process takes a year or more, and any changes would take effect in 2020, Kirn said.