Wild trout, and wild browns in particular, are generating some talk within the Fish and Boat Commission these days.
Wild trout have been a focus of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission for the last several years now.
Might a change be in the works?
The commission – using its own staff and college students – has been conducting what’s known as the unassessed waters initiative. It’s an attempt to survey streams never before looked at to find out what’s swimming in them and provide a baseline of data.
The result has been hundreds of stream sections added to the commission’s wild trout waters list, and lots more added to its list of Class A waters, which recognizes the best of the best wild trout fisheries.
At the board’s September meeting, for example, it added 99 waters to the wild trout list and four to the Class A list. That included five stream sections in Fayette and Westmoreland counties, four in Cambria, seven in Indiana and Jefferson and seven in Somerset.
Commissioners Ed Mascharka of Erie County and Glade Squires of Chester, though, pointed out that some of the streams on the lists are home to brown trout. They’re not native to Pennsylvania.
Mascahrka said he’d like the commission to look at the criteria it uses for determining whether trout in a stream are wild, for example. He wants to make sure they weren’t planted there by a cooperative nursery.
Squires, meanwhile, said he’d like better clarification on how the commission is prioritizing which streams to survey.
At one time, Marcellus shale drilling activity was the driving factor, said commission executive director John Arway.
There’s little such activity going on right now, though, Squires said. Perhaps, he suggested, the urgency to survey these streams has slowed, too.
At the least, commissioners want to know more about what’s being done with wild trout and why, he said.
“We’d like to see this program a bit more defined,” Squires added.
The request left commission staff with questions.
Arway and Andy Shiels, director of the commission’s bureau of fisheries, both said they were unclear on what more the board wants.
Arway pointed out that the commission’s standards for what qualifies as a wild trout water is defined by the “biomass” — or weight of fish per stream segment – in policy. They’ve existed for 30 years.
He defended continuing that surveying using those standards, too. The state Department of Environmental protection won’t protect a stream it knows nothing about, he said.
“I think this is a legacy program. I think when our descendants look back 150 years from now, they’re going to say we did the right thing,” Arway said.
Commissioner Len Lichvar of Boswell agreed. He said surveying wild trout streams is tied to protecting water quality, conservation and partnerships as much as anything.
“It’s not just about fish and fishermen. What we do here is broader than that,” Lichvar said.
Squires said the program needs to be more “transparent” for the public’s sake, though.
Another commission suggested the issue might be one of explanation.
“We have a job to do. We have to do it,” said commissioner Bill Sabatose of Elk County of protecting trout and streams.
But he agreed that the commission could do a better job explaining itself to people inside and outside the agency.