ALBANY — Brook, brown and rainbow, wild or stocked, trout are at the center of new state regulations taking effect when the annual season opens next week.
For 30 years, New York environmental officials have followed existing guidance for managing wild and stocked trout streams, but after an updated management plan entered the final stages of approval in the fall, a 21st-century approach is officially effective April 1.
With the plan and its associated regulatory changes, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is also launching a new, interactive trout stream fishing map, now live on the DEC website.
Penned as the Trout Stream Management Plan in 2018 and 2019, and released in October by the DEC, the final version was reviewed by the public for about three months. The proposed regulation changes associated with the plan were open for comments through Jan. 25.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, in a Wednesday statement, said the updated management approach “is based in science and developed transparently with public input.”
“These regulations not only extend fishing opportunities, but also balance the desires of New York state’s diverse trout stream anglers with our responsibility to manage these resources to their fullest ecological and recreational potential,” he said.
The planning process was headed by the DEC Division of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Fisheries, and involved anglers, biologists and fish experts for a final plan that “embraces simplicity, encourages angler participation and recognizes the value of managing trout streams for self-sustaining populations of wild trout,” according to the DEC.
Key elements include: separate provisions for management of wild fish and stocked trout; creation of a statewide catch-and-release season; extended stocking periods in select streams; requirement for stockings to contain some fish at least 12 inches long; emphasis on stream habitat improvement; and the development of an interactive map for stream management and fishing access points.
Regulatory changes are outlined in an amendment to state Trout Stream Sportfishing Regulations. The changes standardize trout stream creel regulations statewide and establish a catch-and-release season from Oct. 16 to March 31. During the catch-and-release season, anglers are to use artificial lures only.
Daily trout creel limits from April 1 through Oct. 15 now specify: five per day, with no more than two fish longer than 12 inches, in wild or stocked waters; three per day, with no more than one longer than 12 inches, in wild-quality or stock-extended waters; and one per day, any size, in wild-premier waters.
The water categorization reflects a longstanding DEC spring stocking program, a legacy of American deforestation and industrialization coupled with European brown and Pacific Coast rainbow trout being introduced to New York waters in the 1800s. The story is similar for other fish populations that once darted through the fresh waters of the blue planet.
Native trout, like brook and greenback cutthroat, nearly vanished from North America — nearly.
Several states now having stocking programs, and roughly 2.3 million brook, brown and rainbow trout are stocked in New York lakes, ponds and in more than 3,100 miles of streams every year. Most streams in the state support wild trout in addition to the stocked populations, but the effort is designed to “enhance recreational fishing and to restore native species to waters they formerly occupied,” according to the DEC.
To facilitate stocking — of trout and several other species of fish, including salmon, steelhead, walleye and muskellunge — the DEC operates 13 fish hatcheries.
Much of the north country and reaches of the Adirondacks are stocked by a hatchery in Rome, Oneida County, and the Adirondack Hatchery in Franklin County, which specializes in raising landlocked Atlantic salmon. The Rome location is a major provider of trout, with annual production totaling nearly 160,000 pounds of brook, brown and rainbow. The remote waters of the north country are often stocked by helicopters.
Added to the state’s existing DECinfo Locator, map layers of trout stream data are viewable online. Stocking details, fishing access points, season dates and regulations are all incorporated into the Locator. Introduced this week ahead of the 2021 trout season, the data so far includes all wild-quality, wild-premier, stocked and stocked-extended stream reaches in the state. The mapping of wild reaches is expected to be completed later this year.
The 2021 fishing regulations guide — now streamlined with regulations listed by region — can be downloaded and printed from the DEC website. Hard copies will be available at license-issuing agencies in April or can be requested by emailing FWFish@dec.ny.gov.
View the full Trout Stream Management Plan at dec.ny.gov/outdoor/111015.html.