New Hampshire's Ammonoosuc River: A Symbol of Everything Wrong With Modern Fisheries Management
New Hampshire's Ammonoosuc River: A Symbol of What's Wrong With Modern Fisheries Management
Bob Mallard - National Vice Chair, Native Fish Coalition
The word “Ammonoosuc” is Abnaki for “small, narrow fishing place.” It’s fair to assume that this meant fishing for wild native brook trout.
The Ammonoosuc River is one of the most beautiful and fishable rivers in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most abused and poorly managed rivers in the state.
Originating at Lakes of the Clouds, a fishless tarn located at over 5,000 feet above sea-level in a saddle between Mount Monroe and Mount Washington, the latter of which is the highest mountain in New England, the Ammonoosuc River is one of the largest rivers in the northern White Mountains of New Hampshire.
I have fished the Ammonoosuc River for over forty years. It was one of the first rivers I caught a trout on, and the second place I caught a trout on a fly. While once my favorite place to fish in the White Mountains, due to a severely degraded fishery I find myself fishing it less and less each year.
The upper Ammonoosuc River between Twin Mountain and Bretton Woods has unfortunately suffered some significant habitat damage over the last several years due to extreme high-water events. While this has clearly lessened its potential wild trout habitat, it has by no means eliminated it.
A Habit Problem
To call the Ammonoosuc River a purely manufactured fishery would be fair. It is stocked from its confluence with the Connecticut River in Bath to the Base Station Road near Mount Washington, a length of nearly 50 miles. Per New Hampshire Fish and Game, it is stocked in Bath, Lisbon, Littleton, Bethlehem, and Carroll, the latter of which includes Twin Mountain and Bretton Woods. And while not recorded, it is also stocked in Crawford’s Purchase.
According to data obtained from New Hampshire Fish and Game, in 2017 the Ammonoosuc River was stocked with 30,125 trout (including 2,800 “surplus” fish), for a total of 12,137 pounds. It received brook trout (11,700), as well as nonnative rainbow trout (13,145) and brown trout (5,280.) The river was stocked with roughly the same number of trout in 2016, along with over 50,000 “surplus” fish.
Various sections of the Ammonoosuc River were stocked 38 times between April 24th and July 17th 2017. It was stocked on April 24 and 27; May 10, 12, 13, 16, 25, and 30; June 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 22, 25, 27, and 30; and July 12 and 17. The river also received at least one private stocking in support of a TU-sponsored fall fishing event.
Nonnatives Favor Natives
Per New Hampshire Fish and Game, the Ammonoosuc River in Carroll was stocked on January 28, 2016 with 36,273 “surplus” nonnative fingerling rainbow trout. This section is home to some of the highest potential wild native brook trout habitat on the river.
In 2016 and 2017, the number of nonnative rainbow trout stocked in the Ammonoosuc River, not including the fingerlings noted above, exceeded the number of brook trout by a margin of 13,145 to 11,700, and 12,095 to 11,863 respectively.
The lower Ammonoosuc River also received 6,440 adult nonnative brown trout along with 14,563 “surplus” fingerlings in 2016, and 5,280 adult brown trout in 2017.
Stocking Over Wild Fish
Wild native brook trout can be found throughout the upper Ammonoosuc River, albeit in severely depressed numbers in most places. I have encountered wild native brook trout from Twin Mountain upstream to the headwaters, and have heard reports of them even further downriver. And many of its tributaries are home to wild native trout.
The upper Ammonoosuc River and its primary tributary, Jefferson Brook, are home to measurable numbers of wild native brook trout. Upper Falls upstream of Bretton Woods serves as a natural barrier to stocked fish. While there are no stocking records indicating such, members of Native Fish Coalition and others reported catching stocked brook trout above the falls in 2018.
The Ammonoosuc River is also subject to private stocking. Below is a copy of a permit issued by New Hampshire Fish and Game which grants permission to a private party, and what appears to be a business, to stock trout from a 3rd-party source, "Fish Farm," on the upper river in Bretton Woods. The reason for issuing the permit, "Stocking for a large group." Similar permits have been issued to stock the lower river in support of “recreational tournaments.”
A Complete Lack of Protection
There are no protective regulations anywhere on the Ammonoosuc River. Its entire approximately 55-mile length is open to General Law fishing which allows unrestricted bait, including live minnows, and imposes a liberal daily of 5-fish or 5-pounds, whichever comes first, and no length limit. This is the minimum protection afforded trout in New Hampshire by law.
Wild native brook trout on the Ammonoosuc River date back to long before the Abnakis discovered this “small, narrow fishing place.” The river was once a wild native brook trout fishery. We at Native Fish Coalition believe it still could be, and should be, at least in some places.
Does the Ammonoosuc River deserve better? Do the wild native brook trout that still haunt the river in spite of our best efforts to the contrary deserve better? Do New Hampshire anglers deserve better?
Native Fish Coalition thinks so, and we hope that some of you feel the same and will get involved to help bring some relief to what has become the poster child for poor fisheries management in New England.