• Batten Kill plan to stock rainbows panned
    By STEPHEN SEITZ Herald Staff | September 23,2006
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    MANCHESTER — "Keep It Wild" T-shirts largely summed up the crowd's general mood at Thursday night's public hearing on a proposal to stock part of the Batten Kill with sterile rainbow trout.

    "That's why we came here, to hear what the public has to say," said Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Wayne Laroche before the meeting.

    The hearing drew a crowd of 100 to the Burr and Burton Academy's cafeteria to hear the department's plan.

    The Batten Kill is renowned for its wild brown and brook trout populations, and prized by anglers. But from the 1980s to the 1990s, the brown trout population decreased by about 70 percent, prompting the department to declare the 20-mile stretch of the river between Dufresne Pond and the New York State line as catch and release angling only.

    The department also conducted numerous studies and determined that habitat destruction, particularly reshaping and straightening the river to suit human needs since the 1800s, and loss of forest cover, are responsible.

    "It's a chronic situation that developed over many, many years," said fish biologist Ken Cox. "The river was gradually losing cover and it reached the tipping point in the 1990s."

    The plan calls for stocking a 6.5-mile stretch of the Batten Kill with 1,000 sterile rainbow trout. Unlike the wild trout, these could be kept by fishermen.

    The rainbows would not be able to reproduce and be easier to identify, and using a short stretch of the river would leave the rest to wild trout. As habitat improves and the wild fish population grows, the rainbows would be gradually phased out.

    Cox described the stocking plan as an attempt to find middle ground between the anglers who want to catch and keep fish, and the conservationists who want their wild stream restored.

    "How can that be done with minimal risks to the wild populations and still manage the Batten Kill as a wild trout stream?" he asked.

    Besides stocking part of the river, there is a project underway to restore habitat. This involves creating forest cover by planting rootwads and woody vegetation in trout-friendly locations, and creating deep pools by depositing boulders and slabs of slate in the water and along the bank.

    Laroche noted that what was bad for the trout population was good for the recreational boater. The wide and smooth channels in the Batten Kill make for smoother boating.

    "Clearing obstacles is not illegal," Laroche said. "Navigation is legal. We need to monitor the river to see where large wood is accruing and depleting. We need to restore the fishery, keep legal navigation and keep navigation safe."

    The Orvis Company's chief executive officer, Leigh "Perk" Perkins, Jr. said he opposed the plan, even though his company is a leading manufacturer of sporting goods. Orvis is also active in conservation causes, and has threatened to pull its grants for habitat restoration along the Batten Kill if the stocking plan goes forward.

    "My best business judgment tells me my business would be stronger if the stream were stocked," he said. "If we start stocking this river, a lot of those anglers would be happy. We'd sell more equipment, more people would come here and sales would go up. But this is about how an exceptionally beautiful river should be treated. I'm very worried about stocked trout becoming a slippery slope. Energy, money and attention won't go where it should — habitat restoration."

    Most seemed to be in agreement with Kim Kowlakowski of Pownal who argued against the proposal.

    "We did this to ourselves because of the way we mistreated the river and the fish," he said. "There's more fish than the river can support. You can have a wild river or a stocked river. You can't have both."

    Fishing guide Peter Voster, though, said with tighter regulation, the Fish and Wildlife proposal might work.

    "The minute you stock the fish, the fishery changes and the anglers change," he said. "You get litter and crowds that follow the stocking trucks."

    Voster had some suggestions without which, he said, the proposal wouldn't work.

    "Single-hook artificial lures to keep hooking mortality light. Clip the fins to identify the rainbows. We need strong, enforceable regulations to protect the wild fish."

    The Department is taking public comment on the plan through Oct. 21.

    Comments may be sent by e-mail to KenCox@state.vt.us.

    Contact Stephen Seitz at stephen.seitz@rutlandherald.com.
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