Governor’s stocking mandate is a good one, are we willing to fund it?

Governor Jim Justice likes to refer to himself as an “idea guy.” He’ll offer up ideas and put it to his staff and others to work out the details. It’s a process which makes sense. That’s how a lot of things work in the private sector where Justice thrived prior to becoming governor.

This week he offered up his most recent big idea for the outdoors. The Governor believes the trout stocking protocol in West Virginia needs to change. Speaking during an event at Babcock State Park in Fayette County with the iconic Glade Creek Grist Mill in the background, Justice said dumping a large number of trout in the biggest hole nearest the road on every stream is not the way to properly stock West Virginia’s streams.

The Governor offered when the stock truck rolls up, there should be four more people on board. Those extra people should all have a bucket in each hand to carry trout up and down the stream from that big hole. Justice wants to see hatchery staff drop a few trout in this pool, walk 10 feet, drop a few more, and continue that progress up and down the stream to thoroughly disperse the fish over the entire stream.

“We dump a bunch of fish in one hole, then drive to the next big hole and dump a bunch of fish and hope they will disperse,” he said. “It’s not a very good way to do it. What if the truck showed up with four guys and they all carried buckets of trout up and down the stream, dropping two here and three there until the whole stream was stocked.”

The Governor added this was not just an idea, it was a straight up mandate for the DNR staff which is to begin immediately.

Feedback to my story in the comments section and on social media seemed to be largely positive. It should be. The scourge of the DNR’s put and take stocking program for as long as it has been around is “truck chasing.” There have long been complaints and criticisms of the way the stockings are handled.

The Governor’s stocking mandate is a great idea, and one that is impossible under the current structure.

There is a reason those fish are only put into the biggest holes nearest the road. The hatchery staff is sorely limited. The DNR has precious few workers who already have to travel hundreds of miles daily to haul the fish and put them into the streams and lakes. The long trips and extensive stocking is hard on equipment. Breakdowns are likely and repairs are costly. The program just to raise the fish in the state’s hatchery system is expensive. The cost of trout food alone at the hatchery has jumped dramatically in recent years.

Just this week on the DNR’s website where they list the daily trout stockings, the agency posted this message:

MISSED STOCKINGS: Several waters throughout Southern WV were not stocked the last week of March due to limited hatchery staff. Berwind Lake and RD Bailey Tailwaters are part of the Gold Rush stocking and are on the stocking schedule for this week. The missed stockings at these locations will be made up as soon as possible. Missed stockings at Dry Fork (McDowell County), Pinnacle Creek and the Burnsville, Sutton and Stonewall Jackson Tailwaters will also be made up as soon as possible.

It’s not an easy task. Despite a recently approved state law which forbids fishing near the stock truck, the practice continues. There are constant reports of people waiting for the truck and as the fish are flowing out, lures with treble hooks are flying toward hatchery workers trying to do their jobs.

The Governor wants to improve the stocking program and wants to bring on more hatchery personnel to do it. He also suggested enlisting the help of volunteer groups to offer assistance. Historically the experience with volunteer labor and the DNR has had mixed results at best. It’s hard to make plans for a work detail when volunteers commit but fail to show up at the appointed time.

The bottom line to all of this is simple. If West Virginia anglers want a more enhanced stocking of our streams, we have to be willing to pay for it. Currently a trout stamp for residents cost $10. Nobody has offered any suggestion of what kind of an increase it would require to pull off what Justice has mandated. However, would you be willing to pay $35 a year for a trout stamp? Perhaps the cost will rise to $40 or $50 a year and maybe more.

Those four extra guys in Justice’s bucket brigade need to be paid if the volunteer plan doesn’t work out. Should there be a Natural Resources Police officer escorting the truck to enforce the laws on fishing near the truck? An armed guard riding shotgun will cost even more.

Raising the cost of any hunting and fishing license in West Virginia is never easy. The increases are few and far between, meaning every time it happens it’s a gigantic increase and sportsmen are hit with sticker shock. Several years ago, the DNR worked to get it into state code the price of a license would adjust for inflation by tying it to the Consumer Price Index. The first time they tried to use the tool to increase the cost only modestly–the legislature slammed the door shut and rejected the increase.

Governor Justice himself rebuked an idea to charge a modest fee to enter West Virginia’s State Parks offered up by DNR Director Steve McDaniel as a way to help fund deferred maintenance at the parks.

To achieve what the Governor mandates here for trout stocking will cost money and it needs to be understood. So often in West Virginia we want and demand top of the line wildlife programs (or frankly any other state program) but we want them on a bargain basement budget. Unfortunately, it can’t happen that way. You get what you pay for.