Is New Hampshire's Wild Trout Management Program in Trouble?
New Hampshire’s Wild Trout Management Program: A Tough Love Status Update
Bob Mallard, National Vice Chair, Native Fish Coalition
New Hampshire’s Wild Trout Management program is best in class when it comes to its inclusion criteria and the protections provided. Unfortunately, it is in big trouble.
The documented and measurable biomass metric based inclusion criteria allows for the consideration of previously and even currently stocked waters based solely on the presence of wild trout:
If a water meets the Wild Trout Management inclusion criteria and is so designated, the program can and has resulted in the suspension of what are unnecessary, costly, and biologically damaging stocking programs.
Specifically, prior to their inclusion in the Wild Trout Management program, five of the sixteen waters now so designated were being actively stocked. These waters are no longer stocked and are now home to self-sustaining populations of native brook trout:
The protections provided to these waters is absolute and includes no stocking, a barbless artificial lure and fly only tackle restrictions, catch and release, and an early closure to protect spawning fish:
Unfortunately, the program has been sparsely implemented and includes only 13 small streams and 3 small ponds statewide:
Of equal or greater concern is that no waters have been added in 13 years, indicating that the program is badly stalled out at best and in trouble at worst:
There are also large geographic voids within the state where no Wild Trout Management waters have been designated to date:
There are no Wild Trout Management waters north of Dartmouth College Grant, including Pittsburg, arguably New Hampshire's most popular trout fishing designation.
There are no Wild Trout Management streams south of Whitefield and north of Concord, an area rich in wild trout resources, and potential wild trout resources.
While there are two small ponds, there are no Wild Trout Management streams in White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire’s largest undeveloped public land.
At least two Wild Trout Management waters are being actively stocked, and roughly 15 years after being so designated.
As well as the ongoing stocking of over 1,100 adult brook trout a year, Airport Pond, a small impoundment at the lower end of Carroll Stream, was also stocked with 2,000 “surplus,” or unplanned, fingerling brook trout in Fall 2015. If the fish survive they would be virtually undetectable from wild fish:
Lyman Brook is being stocked downstream of the Wild Trout Management area. Population surveys have shown that stocked trout move and cannot be confined without natural or man-made barriers:
Another Wild Trout Management water was stocked in 2015 after 17 years of no stocking, and without any public notification or input:
While it was corrected for the 2019 season, Alder Brook designated as a Wild Trout Management Water in 2005 was without Wild Trout Management regulations from 2016 through 2018, leaving it open to unrestricted bait, 5-fish or 5-pounds, no length limit, and the standard open season for three years:
While it has since been addressed, the primary informational page describing the Wild Trout Management program had become orphaned, accessible only by searching:
Lastly, a request by the New Hampshire chapter of Native Fish Coalition to address the lack of formal signage on the Wild Trout Management waters by posting signs using outside funding and resources was denied:
Unfortunately, things don’t look good for New Hampshire’s Wild Trout Management program, the only formal wild trout program in the state. It is badly stalled out, sparsely implemented, and being compromised by ill-advised and dangerous stocking, administrative errors, and a lack of informational signage at the source.
Native Fish Coalition has worked hard to ascertain the facts and share them with the public. However, if there is to be any meaningful reform, anglers, conservationists, and NGOs will need to band together and put pressure on New Hampshire Fish and Game to expand the Wild Trout Management program, post signs, and otherwise embrace what is a valuable, important, and effective program.