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A news magazine about the Delaware River and the people who use it.

New York and Pennsylvania study trout in the Upper Delaware

Fishing, especially trout fishing, is one of the economic drivers for the upper Delaware River, and New York and Pennsylvania have launched a three-year study to find out answers for the questions about trout in the Upper Delaware -- the who, what, when, where, how and why.

Anglers who fish these waters are likely to be glad -- though anglers being an independent lot, there's no guarantee. Residents of Sullivan and Delaware counties in New York and Wayne County in Pennsylvania are more likely to be happy because they're the people who would benefit from trout tourism.

Scientists from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation and Pennsylvania's Fish and Boat Commission will survey the waters of the Delaware (Main Stem, East Branch and West Branch) and significant tributaries to look at the presence of adult, juvenile and trout eggs to take stock of the population. They will be asking anglers to take part in on-the-spot interviews held while they are fishing to determine what the "angler experience" is like.

The first aim is to find some baselines about the two "halves" of the trout presence in the Upper Delaware: the fish and the anglers. Then, as that becomes clearer, to work on improving the water for the fish and the fishing for the angler. The last time a survey was completed was in 2005/ The outline for the current plan explained that a new plan was needed because of changes in flow management of the river as well as an increase in fishing.

There's been an on-going roll out of the project, most recently in Hancock on March 22., where  the emphasis was on the anglers, asking for their cooperation in those interviews. Wise to the ways of anglers, NYDEC presenter Chris VanMaaren, was encouraging anglers to take part in these stream-side interviews, stressing that the people conducting them would be sensitive to the quiet that most fishing demands.

They will conduct creel surveys to find out what the angler has caught, then fill in a small report, then ask the angler to finish the report at the end of the day's fishing. The "report cards" are only available from the creel clerks stream side and there will be 40 boxes near the waters under study so that anglers can drop them off as they leave.

VanMaaren, DEC Region 4 fisheries manager, said the study aims to compile all that information to provide a baseline to see how healthy the population is, whether it's healthier in some spots than others, and to discover what the problems might be. If/when they find anomalies or problems, they will work to find solutions.

The report-card model in VanMaaren's presentation listed brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, walleye, smallmouth bass and American shad. VanMaaren encouraged anglers to report any fish that were caught and taken as well as any catch-and-release fish.

Some questions from the audience seemed to be taking a cautious view of the work. (Did I mention that these are largely anglers?)

One asked why only these few fish were the target when there are "52 known species."

"Game fish is the focus," said VanMaaren, noting there isn't funding to do a complete analysis, though, again, he encouraged reporting of all fish caught.

His boss, Stephen Hurst, who is the chief of the Bureau of Fisheries, reiterated the point: "I wish we could do a really comprehensive survey (including more fish species and more streams) but we can't afford to do every river. This river has been identified as important.

"Chris (VanMaaren) is trying to be an artist here," Hurst said, "to paint a picture of the fish in this river."

Answering another question, neither VanMaaren nor Hurst promised to fix on-site problems, like a bank wash out, but rather to note it for further action. The survey, they explained, is meant to evolve over time: as problems are found and remedied, other problems might surface and then those too will need attention. This isn't supposed to be a one-and done effort, but rather an on-going process.

Both New York and Pennsylvania promised further public meetings as the survey results are compiled, and as next steps contemplated.

Though spokesmen from NYDEC held the floor for this New York meeting, the aim is a partnership with both states involved in tagging fish as well as redd counts (a redd is a spawning nest built by the fish in the gravel of shallow streams) and electrofishing (where an electric charge in the water stuns the fish and allows them to be counted, then released with little harm), and aerial surveys.

The survey will take place from April 1 through October 15, this year and next.

Here's a link to the study of the economic effect of trout fishing.

Here's a link to find out more about the survey.

You can also reach Chris VanMaaren at chris.vanmaaren@dec.ny.gov

and PFBC biologist Daryl Pierce at dapierce@pa.gov

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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