Why do we need a fisheries program in Virginia?
Because Virginia has over 3,300 miles of coldwater streams, 25,000 miles of fishable warmwater streams, 13,000 acres of small impoundments, and 163,000 acres of large impoundments open to public fishing! Freshwater recreational fishing is big business in Virginia and vital to the state’s economy. During 2001, over 721,000 freshwater anglers fished 10,848,612 days in Virginia alone! These anglers spent over $383,496,833, and freshwater recreational fishing accounted for a total economic output of almost $735,000,000, supporting 6,824 jobs with $170,256,220 of earnings.
Specifically, how does the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) accomplish its goals? Before anything can be accomplished, there has to be a source of funding. Sales of fishing licenses are, of course, the most obvious funding mechanism for many fisheries programs, and together with the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program, supports almost all of the Department’s fisheries management and research activities, put-grow-and-take fish stocking, and fishing access programs. The catchable trout stocking program is funded through the sales of trout licenses that are required along with the state fishing license to fish in designated stocked trout waters. Fish Passage and Shad Restoration Programs are funded by a combination of license funds and various outside state and federal dollars.
Critical Fisheries Surveys and Research
Fisheries surveys and research are the framework necessary for biologists to maintain and improve fishing. Thorough knowledge and understanding of fish habitat, fish populations, and angler use of fisheries resources is essential to build sound programs that result in good fishing.
VDGIF maintains aggressive, state-of-the-art survey and research projects that are specifically designed to maximize fishing opportunity. Each year biologists conduct hundreds of stream and lake surveys which lead to evaluations of fish populations and stocking strategies, and long-term management plans to improve fishing. Angler surveys are conducted on selected streams and lakes to provide fishing pressure, catch and harvest rates, and angler characteristics and opinions. Specific fish population and angler use research in recent years has included studies on such waters as Smith Mountain, Claytor, Moomaw, Philpott, Laurel Bed and Flannagan lakes, and the James, New, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, Dan, Smith, and Chickahominy rivers. Studies have been conducted, or are on-going, on a trout stream classification system, striped bass, musky, channel catfish stocking strategies, walleye stockings and movements, catfish food habits, anadromous striped bass, trout stream acidification, American shad restoration, smallmouth bass, statewide angler survey, and licensed trout angler survey. Biologists also have taken an active role in establishing a pro-active environmental/habitat protection program through coordination and cooperation with other government agencies, and the private sector, in planning and reviewing development projects to insure consideration is given to protection and enhancement of fisheries resources. Again, the more biologists know about fish populations and anglers, the more they can do to maintain, improve, and protect fisheries resources, and ensure the angler benefits.
Creating Fishing Opportunity
Creating fishing opportunity is a critical function for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The Department is responding to angler needs through lake and dam construction, renovation, and maintenance; fish habitat improvements; shoreline and fishing pier developments; and fish hatchery improvements and fish stockings.
The Department owns 39 man-made lakes and ponds, totaling 3,445 acres, that will continue to be an important part of Virginia’s fisheries management program to help meet the increasing demand for close-to-home, family fishing and outdoor recreational opportunities. All of these lakes have been purchased, constructed, renovated, and/or maintained using license dollars and Sport Fish Restoration Program funds, highlighted by such lakes as Laurel Bed, Bark Camp, Frederick, Nelson, Conner, Albemarle, Brittle, Burke, Curtis, and Briery Creek.
Fish habitat improvements, fertilization and liming are very effective practices to help concentrate fish, increase fish population carrying capacity, increase fishing opportunity, and increase angler use. Between 1992 and 2000, fish attracting structures have been added or maintained on 39 different lakes; improvements have been planned, coordinated, or constructed on 20 streams; vegetation control in the form of grass carp stockings, partial drawdowns, and herbicide treatments were implemented at 17 lakes; 6 lakes were managed under an annual fertilization program; and major liming projects were completed or continued on Laurel Bed Lake, Passage Creek, and St. Mary’s River.
Accessible Fishing Areas
VDGIF has also found it essential to expand shoreline and handicap accessible fishing areas. Significant developments in recent years have included shoreline/angler access acquisitions and developments at Crooked Creek, Stewarts Creek, and the Leesylvania tailwater area, and handicap accessible fishing piers at such areas as Middle Fork Holston River, Whitetop Laurel Creek, Leesylvania State Park (Potomac River); and Cook, Keokee, Locust Shade, Biggins, Claytor, Amelia, Smith Mountain, Burke, Kerr, Frederick, Anna, Orange, Bark Camp, and Briery Creek lakes.
Fish stocking is a management tool to establish sportfish in new, reclaimed, or renovated waters open to public fishing; supplement natural stocks where reproduction is inadequate; introduce new species as predators and/or to provide a trophy fishery; and provide immediate fishing by introducing catchable size fish. VDGIF operates four warmwater hatcheries (King & Queen, Front Royal, Buller, and Vic Thomas), rearing and stocking a wide variety of species including largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, walleye, musky, northern pike, American shad, channel catfish, hybrid striped bass, and striped bass. Over the last eight years, VDGIF stocked over 14,864,000 freshwater fish in Virginia waters. Anglers should realize that some of the major sport fisheries in Virginia today would not exist without annual stockings from hatcheries and most others are/were started by hatchery fish and then sustained by natural reproduction.
VDGIF annually stocks over 1.2 million catchable-size trout in some 180 waters (stream sections and lakes) from October-June. Trout are raised at Marion, Paint Bank, Wytheville, Coursey Springs, and Montebello hatcheries. This catchable (put-n-take) trout program draws a tremendous amount of attention and is funded through the sale of trout licenses. A much smaller fingerling/sub-catchable stocking program is designed to take advantage of the natural potential of high-elevation lakes, deep reservoirs, cold tailwaters below dams, and spring-feed streams to produce quality trout fishing opportunities where wild fisheries are not possible, due to lack of natural reproduction.