SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Less than a week after Governor Jim Justice mandated changes in the Division of Natural Resources Trout Stocking program, those changes are in place.
“When he first told me, I got a little concerned,” said DNR Director Steve McDaniel. “I didn’t have a year to plan it, but I think we have come up with a plan that will work and anglers will be pleased.”
Justice in an appearance at Babcock State Park last week suggested he wanted to see four additional people arrive with the stock truck to transport fish up and down the stream. The idea was to more widely disperse fish in the stream and lessen the chance of multiple anglers hitting a single hole where the fish were put nearest the road. Governor Justice was irritated a handful of people fishing elbow to elbow were catching the bulk of fish from that single hole only minutes or hours after they were put into the water. .
McDaniel’s plan will be rolled out starting next week and done in three phases. The agency will hire workers from the West Virginia Association of Rehab Facilities (WVARF) to assist hatchery personnel with stocking the fish. The association already performs a lot of work for the DNR with mowing and cleanups at boat ramps, ,wildlife management areas, and other facilities all across the state.
“Four people from WVARF will meet the truck at a designated location and follow them,” explained McDaniel. “We have a whole procedure, but basically those four people will carry buckets with four or five fish 50 and 100 yards downstream and 50 and 100 yards upstream. We’re going to put them into the riffles as much as we can and get the fish as widely dispersed as possible.”
The truck driver will also toss a few off the truck into the larger holes, but ultimately most of the fish which would have normally been all placed in a single hole will be stretched over a much larger area.
Phase one will involve the waters in West Virginia which are stocked weekly. Phase two will add the bi-weekly waters once they hammer out the process. Phase three will involve stocking the state’s impoundments.
“I don’t know if we’ll get to very many of those this year since those start to fall off into the month of May,” McDaniel said. “We’re going to get a longer hose and use a boat to carry it out to the center of the lake and dump the fish further out into the lake.”
Governor Justice suggested volunteer groups would also be willing to help. McDaniel acknowledged his phone and email have been blowing up with people willing to help out. He’s not turning down the help, but wants to make certain personnel are in place to get the program off the ground.
“The only problem with using volunteers, when you’re paying somebody, there’s a better chance they’re going to show up,” McDaniel explained.
Volunteers may be used in the future to assist with the stocking, but for now, WVARF personnel will be the backbone of the program.
McDaniel said a contract had been signed with the organization. Phase one is estimated to cost $111,000. Phase two will up that cost to $150,000 according to McDaniel. He said the money is available for the program this year and admitted they’ll be looking at pricing for trout stamps as well as all hunting and fishing license in the coming year to present for a possible increase to next year’s legislature.
“I know it seems like a lot, but you have a lot of stockings in here,” he said. “It’s only ten bucks for a trout stamp and it’s been a while since it was increased. We’re fine for this year and one way or another we’ll find a way to do it.”
The Director suggested adding volunteers to the stocking runs could reduce the cost in years ahead. Another potential partnership he suggested could be with the various watershed associations across the state. McDaniel believes those groups could supply regular volunteer labor in exchange for an annual contribution to their organization.
McDaniel defended his hatchery personnel who he said have been unfairly criticized on social media.
“Those guys have done an amazing job with the resources we have given them to work with,” he said. “They’re excited too because they want this to be the best program it can be. It’s not their fault things were being done this way.”
There are seven weeks left in this year’s stocking schedule. The season will include 1,500 more stocking runs. During the year there are 15,000 stops to deposit fish. When the four WVARF workers are added into the equation, the number of fish dumps will jump to an estimated 60,000 statewide.
Feedback on the idea since the Governor’s announcement has been positive. McDaniel believed the change in the stocking procedure would excite anglers.
“It’s the right thing to do and the Governor is spot on,” said McDaniel. “I’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of messages on text and my Facebook page saying, ‘You guys are finally doing it the way is should be done.'”