Thursday, April 16, 2015

A New York Times Article Critique

There is an article making it's rounds on fly fishing forums and circles around the web that was on the cost of trout fishing.  It was a New York Times opinion piece by Douglas M. Thompson and here is the article below:

There are a few things I agree with and a few things I disagree with and I would like to point them out.
1) Douglas states that "Twenty-eight million Americans will buy freshwater fishing licenses this year.  Eight million of them will be trout and salmon anglers. Native wild trout have mostly disappeared in the face of this immense fishing pressure."  Native trout have not mostly disappeared, and where they have disappeared it is not mainly due to fishing pressure.  I want to point out that making a vague comment like "mostly disappeared" is a very relative term. While native trout have lost a lot of their historical range, there have been great strides to restore the native trout to their original waters.  Shenandoah National Park is a great example of the removal of invasive species and restoring brook trout.  Right now Greenback Cutthroat are reduced to 1% of their historical range and they are in the process of removing the hybridized cutthroats and restoring the pure strain Greenback Cutthroats that are in Bear Creek to the Greenback Cutthroats historical range.  The same can be said about other sub species of trout that are endangered.  There are still a good strong hold of other native trout in their historical range though comparatively and the trout that have been threated from their historical range is not due to just fishing pressure.

While I agree that fishing pressure can have a negative effect on trout populations, it is one of the negative effects that contributes the least amount of pressure in my opinion in modern times.  Most native trout streams today receive little to no pressure.  Back in the late 1800's and early 1900's overfishing coinciding with river pollution, logging, and poor fishing regulations crippled a lot of native trout populations.  The Lahotan Cutthroat story here ( ) is a good example of overfishing in the past.  However the era of overfishing being a major impact on native species is over with regulations and modern fishing ethics in general.  Tailwaters, stocked trout streams, and delayed harvest streams receive the most pressure today.  While there are some smaller native trout streams that receive enough pressure to negatively affect the stream, the vast majority receive little pressure.  Vast majority of the time I fish wild trout streams in VA, I do not see another soul fishing.  There is too much effort involved in catching 6 to 10 inch brook trout and there is so many native brook trout streams in VA (not getting into a Northern Strain vs Southern Strain debate) that it distributes the pressure pretty evenly.  Outside of my little world of east coast brook trout, other native trout populations are the same.  All the endangered trout species I can think of is mainly due to stocking of other trout species and spawning with other trout strains and not fishing pressure.  Brook trout were mainly affected by logging, stocking of invasive species, and acid rain, Golden Trout breed with rainbows that were stocked and hybridized them, greenback cutthroat spawned with rainbows as well making cutbows and about annihilating the species except for bear creek, Gila trout same story as golden trout and greenback cutthroat, and Paiute cutthroat were about wiped out due to hybridized with Lahontan Cutthroat and Rainbows.  So the statement associating the disappearing of native trout to immense fishing pressure is a statement not backed up by fact besides a trivial reference to the number to fishing licenses issued in America.

One last thing to mention about fishing pressure is that stocking trout usually brings fishing pressure to streams that cannot support native or wild trout year around.  The majority of stocked streams in most states are streams that can hold trout in the fall, winter, and spring, but get too warm in the summer to hold trout.  Therefore the pressure that stocking trout brings is usually of no affect to native trout.  There are some exceptions, but for the most part this holds true.

2) Douglas goes on to explain the negative effects of stocking trout and the damage it does to native trout species.  While there is some truth to this which I'll point out later, it is also important to note where he was wrong and the points he did not shed light on.  Most of the hybridizing of native trout is due to poorly thought out trout stocking happened back in the early 1900's.  NC Wildlife Organization ( ) states in their brook trout report the following:
"Northern strain brook trout (from the northeastern U.S), rainbow trout
(from the western U.S.) and brown trout (from Europe) were stocked around
1900 to replace brook trout populations lost due to logging operations. Resident
brook trout were often unable to compete with rainbow and brown trout for
available food, habitat and spawning sites within the altered landscape of the
southeast. In addition, alterations to native brook trout population genetics
have occurred due to interactions with Northern strain brook trout. With continued
development of the mountain region and further encroachment on
habitat by man and non-native species, the future of the wild brook trout is
of concern, and since 1900, the brook trout range is thought to have declined
by about 80 percent. State and federal agencies are developing strategies to
identify, maintain and expand existing wild brook trout populations to ensure
their survival in their native range."
The point I want to make is that in the 1900's the stocked trout were not sterile.  Trout would breed with existing populations and compete with native trout for food.  These issues were taken care of in most states, and while there are a few instances where this is not true, they are the exception and not the rule. 
Douglas states that "They (native trout) have been replaced by nonnative hatchery fish and their river-born "wild" trout offspring".  While that is true back 10 to 15 years ago, there has been a great deal of change to the way trout are reared.  Some states are stocking triploids 100 % of the time and a lot of states are stocking triploids in waters where the stocked trout could reach native trout streams.  NC is a good example of this.  Jeff Wilkins explains in his blog ( ) post that:
"Hatchery- raised trout stocked in NC streams beginning in 2009 won't experience parenthood. That's because all brook, brown, and rainbow trout will be sterile and unable to reproduce.
The NCWRC gradually has been shifting its production of trout from those that can produce fry to those that won't be able to spawn offspring.
The impetus for converting to sterile trout is to help preserve the native Southern Appalachian brook trout, said Mallory Martin, the commission's regional fisheries supervisor in Marion, NC."
By switching to triploid trout that cannot reproduce, this eliminates the worry of hybridizing native trout gene pools.  I think more emphasis on states investing in sterile trout stocking should be pushed instead of just the negative affects of stocking trout.  Another point to make is that in most states and in most instances, the state does not stock trout over native trout populations and even wild trout populations.  While I know for a fact this is not true 100% of the time, most states really make an effort to try not to stock over native or wild trout populations.  When states due stock over wild trout populations, I do disagree with them and it is one of the things I agree with Douglas on.  But the stocking of trout over wild populations really is an exception and not the norm in most states.

3) One of the biggest points that Douglas forgot to mention is the benefits to native trout populations that stocking trout provides .  Douglas says "We are devastating populations of marine species simply to support a freshwater hobby".  I argue the opposite and here is why.  There are a lot of anglers who want to catch trout and eat trout.  By removing state stocking programs, you have shifted a lot of pressure from a renewable program that can support the angling pressure, to a more fragile native and wild trout populations.  While I argued earlier that native trout populations are not affected under the current fishing pressure on them, removing a program that gives many people who want to eat trout an avenue to pursue that desire could shift too much pressure to the native and wild trout populations.  Quite frankly, Bubba is going to eat trout one way or another.  I would rather see poaching and harvesting on stocked trout waters then on a valuable treasured resource such at native trout.  Stocked trout programs are worth their weight in gold just for the preserving of native trout that they provide.  I agree that stocking trout should be done ethically and with the native and wild trout populations in mind.  Douglas says "Unfortunately, many states set uniformly high catch limits that draw no distinction between native versus nonnative trout".  And while I agree with this, like I said earlier, most states are stocking triploids and trying not to stock over native or wild trout populations.  Also, writing an article on why stocked trout programs are bad and not highlighting their good besides "supporting a freshwater hobby" seems irresponsible.


  1. It seems as though your area has a better stocking programs because in MA and especially RI the state stocks over native brookies regularly, and it causes some big issues. Also, they do not stock sterile trout either up here (and subsequently wild browns can be an issue for brookies), so I think Thompson's article is more relevant to my area rather than yours. If you want to learn more about the struggle of RI brookies against stockers and lack of state action to protect natives, check out protect RI brook trout's website and Facebook page.

  2. Thanks for the insight RI Brook Trout. I know a lot of the neighboring states try to not stock over top native trout waters. I know PA does it some. Wish they wouldn't. Major beef with Thompson's article is the generalization and poor arguments he made. If he was wanting to talk about some of the Northeastern States brook trout issues, he should of narrowed it down to that, but generalizing state's lack of interest to all native trout with their stocking programs seems a little ridiculous to me. Seems like he would of wanted to address some more pressing issues to native trout in the New York Times opinion piece. Thanks for your reply.