Change needed in Pennsylvania’s Class A stream classification process

115 In Wild Brown

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologists regularly assess trout streams, using electro-fishing gear to capture and measure the wild trout biomass in a stream. This is an excellent process and puts Pennsylvania’s agency well above those in many other states.

If biologists find a biomass of 40 kilograms per hectare of wild brown trout (27 pounds of wild trout per surface acre of a stream) or 30 kg/h of native brook trout, the stream is put before the appointed commissioners to be approved as a Class A stream. Class A streams provide the best year-round trout fishing in the state.

I have seen uninformed people argue that the trout are actually stocked fish, not wild, but my exposure to the process tells me that agency biologists have no trouble making the distinction. That part — the biological part — is sound.

The agency claims that this level of wild trout provides an excellent year-round fishery without stocking — that is, an excellent fishery for anglers who are skilled enough to catch them. I agree with the agency totally, and I fish primarily for these naturally reproduced trout. With few exceptions, these streams are removed from the stocking list and are not permitted to be stocked by cooperative trout nurseries or private individuals.

The biological process, the standards, and premise are all good. So, what’s the problem?

One of the problems is that the Fish and Boat Commission has cultivated a multitude of anglers who depend on stocked trout for their fishing recreation. However, that is an issue for another blog.

A younger version of me was black and white on this issue. I was adamant — if it is Class A, remove the stream from the stocking list and forbid anyone else from stocking there. An older and hopefully wiser version of me has learned that there are many shades of gray.

The problems in the current process include how these streams are presented to the commissioners, as well as how they are NOT presented to the public.

As an example, at their meeting on October 25, 2021,  the commissioners approved a section of Centre County’s Cold Stream and several other waters as Class A and removed them from the stocking list. Local people didn’t have a clue.

“We own this property,” Philipsburg Borough Manager Joel Watson commented. “It is now almost five months later, and the Fish and Boat Commission has never notified us of the change. You would think that they would contact us to ask us about the possible change.”

The Fish and Boat Commission would respond with, “We publish all of this in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, as required.”

Would all the anglers who regularly read the Pennsylvania Bulletin please clap your hands? Whoa … the silence is defining.

At a meeting, never once have I heard a commission biologist say, “This stream has a Class A biomass of wild trout, but because of x, y and z, we think that it should remain on the stocking list.”

When non-stocked streams are presented to the commissioners as Class A, their names are usually not even mentioned at the meeting. If several stocked streams are presented to the commissioners, they are asked to vote on the streams as a package. If a commissioner questions or requests an individual vote on each stream, it seems as if he/she is bullied into voting on the list as a whole.

Here is what I propose:

Change 1 – All streams should be discussed and voted on individually. Let each change stand on its own merits.

Change 2 – There needs to be an announcement in local newspapers when such a change is proposed. Landowners could be notified, and sportsmen’s clubs contacted. This would give a chance for local people, the anglers affected by the change, to be heard.

I know that, in every case, someone will be opposed to the cessation of stocking, and that doesn’t mean that they get their way. However, anglers would be involved in the process, agency biologists could make their case, and in the end, the commissioners could make an informed decision considering all of the biological and social aspects.

Categories: Blog Content, Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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