If you stock it, they will come
Today we highlight National Fishing and Boating Week with a story about bringing fishing and outdoor recreation to urban audiences in Connecticut. Mike Beauchene, a supervisory fisheries biologist for the Inland Fisheries Division of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, shares with us his work and passion to expand participation in recreational fishing with the Community Waters Fishing Program.
Stocking trout in Connecticut waters is an annual tradition dating back to the 1880s. The state’s Inland Fisheries Division stocks approximately 650,000 trout into hundreds of waters. Until 2007, these were almost exclusively in the “pristine” waters of our western and eastern uplands: highly forested areas found in rural communities.
“You want to stock where?” my colleagues asked when I explained my idea of stocking trout in small ponds located in some of Connecticut’s most populated communities. Community Fishing Waters, as we call them, are found in municipal parks and provide a mechanism to engage more than 70 percent of Connecticut’s residents in fishing and outdoor activities.
Much of my co-workers’ initial skepticism stemmed from the ideas in David Quammen’s essay “Synecdoche and the Trout,” which describes trout habitat as “a particular complex of biotic and chemical and physical factor, a standard of richness and purity, without which that troutly presence in impossible.” They claimed that urban ponds have algal blooms, are too shallow, are too warm and cannot support trout year round. And adding to their resistance was the feeling that we would alienate our existing anglers.
Despite some hesitation, we moved forward with the Urban Fishing Initiative (now the Community Fishing Waters) pilot project, believing that we had fertile waters to grow new anglers. During the pilot phase between 2005 and 2011, we learned that more than 90 percent of people fishing in the urban waters traveled less than five miles to fish.
We decided to expand the Community Fishing Waters program after receiving an overwhelmingly positive response. Funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sport Fish Restoration Program helped make this expansion possible. In 2014 we added six new bodies of water, bringing the total number to 12 stocked ponds in 11 communities.
With our expansion also came the desire to want to learn more about the people who are fishing at the ponds and benefiting from the program. We conducted angler surveys at four of the new community waters and learned some very helpful information:
- Almost everyone was a resident of the same community as the pond.
- The majority of people came to fish specifically for the stocked fish, especially trout.
- Someone was almost always fishing when we conducted an interview (only 2 survey dates had 0 anglers).
- More than half of the first time interviewees had never fished the pond before.
- More than 75 percent of the people returned multiple times to fish again.
I often get puzzled looks, and sometimes disapproval from our “traditional” angling community when I explain Community Fishing Waters and our work to expand and grow the program. To many of our constituents, their idea of “troutly presence” equals a pristine body of water in a rural location. But our put-take-management of these urban ponds opens all our waters for troutly presence. The more we can bring fish to the people, the more likely people will come to support fisheries, wildlife and outdoor recreation.