New Hampshire's Stocking Problem
Bob Mallard, National Vice Chair
As NH NFC Chair Nate Hill once said, New Hampshire doesn't have a habitat problem, it has a habit problem. While he meant it figuratively not literally, Nate hit the nail on the head, and while bucking traditional opinion, made a point we cannot ignore: New Hampshire Fish & Game is far too reliant on stocking.
While researching NH’s Wild Trout Management (WTM) program, I came across some disturbing stocked data. Per policy, WTM waters are not supposed to be stocked:
Two WTM waters, Carroll Stream and Lyman Brook, are being actively stocked. The former via a small impoundment, Airport Pond, on the lower end of the stream, and the latter downstream of the WTM area:
In addition to over 1,100 adult brook trout a year, 12-acre Airport Pond was stocked with 2,000 “surplus”, or unplanned, fingerling brook trout in Fall 2015. NH F&G is not only stocking by rule, but by exception as well:
It also appears that NH F&G stocked a water, West Branch Mohawk River, that is entirely designated as a WTM water in 2015:
To make sure this was not a data entry mistake, I asked for the hand-written hatchery receipt. Unfortunately, it supported what the database said:
Prior to WTM designation, five of the sixteen waters were actively being stocked. Others had been stocked previously. These waters are no longer stocked, proving that the stocking programs in place prior to WTM designation were not necessary.
The problem with stocking in New Hampshire goes way beyond the WTM waters. In fact, it is much worse elsewhere. The list of waters that are home to wild native brook trout that are actively being stocked is lengthy.
New Hampshire Fish & Game stocked nearly 835,000 trout in 2017 in Carroll, Coos, and Grafton Counties alone. This included 232,000 “surplus” fish that were not part of the management plan, just hatchery excess. These northern counties are home to many of the state’s wild native brook trout populations.
Nearly 74,000 trout were stocked in White Mountain National Forest in 2017, home to many of the state’s wild native brook trout. This includes roughly 6,500 nonnative rainbow trout. Flume Brook, a popular site-seeing destination, received a dump of 30 stocked brook trout in May. The obvious question here is, why?
When asked why Flume Brook was stocked, NH F&G said “We have an MOA [Memorandum of Agreement] with DNCR [Department of Natural & Cultural Resources] where we provide them with a few trout for the Flume Gorge. I believe they are carried in via bucket.” DNCR is comprised of five government agencies. Per their website, their mission is to protect, promote, and manage New Hampshire's natural, recreational and cultural resources. Which priority this addresses is unclear.
And it is impossible to determine exactly where NH F&G stocks as the lowest level of geographic granularity recorded is town. For example, the entire Wildcat River is located in Jackson making it impossible to ascertain if the fish were stocked above or below the impassible falls. The same situation exists on many other rivers and streams.
Making matters worse is the fact that the town is not always accurate. While 2017 stocking records indicate that fish were stocked on the Ammonoosuc River only as far upstream as Carroll, I caught stocked fish above this in Crawford’s Purchase and have for years, and in numbers and concentrations that indicate a fresh stocking.
Make no mistake about it, New Hampshire has a habit problem: Stocking. This puts wild native trout at risk as well as compromising other species that count on them or share the water with them. New Hampshire’s wild native brook trout deserve better. New Hampshire anglers, those footing the bill, deserve better. New Hampshire non-anglers deserve better.
Do New Hampshire anglers want more out of their trout fisheries? Do New Hampshire non-anglers want more out of their natural resources? Are New Hampshire anglers, conservationists, and advocates willing to step up and demand some level of stocking reform? NFC is, and we need your help if we are to be successful.