Trout fishing provides significant opportunities for outdoor recreation in Virginia. About one out of every seven hours spent fishing by Virginians is spent in pursuit of trout. Only Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass receive more attention from anglers. Due to Virginia’s warm climate, trout thrive year around only in higher-elevation mountain streams and in cold river tailwaters below a few large dams, such as the Jackson River and the Smith River. Consequently, 80% of trout fishing in Virginia depends upon the more than one million catchable-size trout stocked annually by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). Approximately 100,000 anglers fish for these stocked trout in Virginia each year in more than 180 streams and lakes stocked by VDGIF.
Due to the importance of trout fishing in Virginia, and the significant investment required to operate and maintain hatcheries to produce catchable-sized trout (generally greater than seven inches, but frequently 10-12 inches), VDGIF developed the Virginia Stocked Trout Management Plan (hereafter referred to as the “Plan”) to ensure effective and efficient management of trout fisheries over the next 10 years. Following a process similar to those used to develop statewide management plans for white-tailed deer, black bear, and wild turkey, the Virginia Stocked Trout Management Plan is designed to embody the interests of all Virginians who care about trout fishing (stakeholders). The planning process focused on balancing stakeholder values and sound biological information provided by VDGIF to produce a plan that is technically sound and publicly supported. The Plan includes values and goals identified by stakeholders to determine what Virginians want the stocked trout program to achieve and objectives and strategies, primarily developed by VDGIF technical staff, to describe how the goals and objectives can be achieved.
A stakeholder advisory committee, composed of 11 individuals representing the diverse interests of Virginians in management of stocked trout, worked closely with VDGIF and Virginia Tech personnel to develop the Plan. A technical committee that included VDGIF fisheries biologists, hatchery personnel and conservation police officers provided the technical aspects of the Plan. Virginia Tech personnel facilitated meetings of the stakeholder advisory and technical committees, and helped with editing and formatting the Plan.
The Plan contains two major sections: the technical section and the goals, objectives and strategies for management of stocked trout. The technical section describes the history of trout management in Virginia, how VDGIF approaches management of stocked trout, including production, facilities, species produced, and challenges faced in raising trout. The second section of the Plan lists the values and goals for management of stocked trout within five major issue areas (what stakeholders want to achieve and why) and the objectives and strategies for management of stocked trout (specific accomplishments that will allow VDGIF to measure success in achieving goals and how to approach achieving goals and objectives). The Plan is designed to provide a blueprint for future direction of stocked trout management rather than specific details of day-to-day operations.
The issue areas and associated goal statements are as follows:
- Announcement of stockings. Goal: Announce stockings using a variety of strategies (including prior announcement, post-stocking announcement, or no announcement) to provide equitable access to the resource and to address the diverse preferences of trout anglers. In addition to existing Heritage Day events, some stockings will be announced in advance to allow anglers to plan fishing trips to coincide with known stockings. Other stockings will be announced at the end of the day when stocking occurs to reduce crowding and ensure the safety of anglers and VDGIF personnel involved with stocking.
- Angler recruitment and retention. Goal: Inform and educate existing and potential future anglers, recruit younger and more diverse anglers, and retain those already engaged through new promotion efforts.
- Funding and administration. Goal: Maintain a productive and adequately funded stocked trout program, including investigation of alternative funding and resource mechanisms to meet current and anticipated future demands. Maintain an open and transparent decision-making process regarding stocked trout management.
- Ecosystem effects. Goal: Manage trout stocking to optimize recreational opportunities while minimizing adverse impacts on aquatic and surrounding habitats, wild and native trout and other aquatic species. Manage habitat in stocked trout waters and preserve the aesthetics of the angling experience.
- Recreational opportunities. Goal: Provide a diversity of stocked trout fishing experiences designed to meet diverse angler preferences, and increase participation. Improve access to stocked trout waters for all anglers
VDGIF shared the Plan with the public by posting it on the VDGIF web page in July 2015. Public comments were received online until September 15, 2015. Additional comments were received via letter to Virginia Tech personnel. Finally, Virginia Tech and VDGIF held nine public meetings across Virginia to present the Plan and receive comments. The VDGIF Technical Committee reviewed all public comments and revised the plan accordingly. A summary of the comments and VDGIF’s response are included in an appendix at the end of the Plan.