CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Governor Justice bristled during a Friday press briefing at the suggestion trout stocking should be suspended as part of the state’s response to the Covid-19 Coronavirus.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, issued a press release ahead of the briefing calling for the Governor to halt the DNR’s trout stocking program immediately.
“I’ve received a lot of phone calls over the past 48 hours about the stocking of trout by the DNR. They will unload the stock truck, groups of 75 to 100 fishermen will congregate around that spot. Fishermen will then remain at that spot there rather than spreading out. My understanding is that many of the fishermen are citizens from Maryland, Virginia and Ohio,” Sponaugle wrote in his press release.
“This isn’t the time to be worrying about tourism and luring out of state visitors to West Virginia. The State of Maryland has stopped stocking altogether. Virginia has limited their program. In West Virginia, we’re picking up their fishermen as a result of their action. This runs counter to any mitigation strategy to combat the corona virus.”
Justice called Sponaugle’s suggestion “silly.”
“We’re not going to stop our trout stocking, that’s the silliest thing under the sun,” Justice told reporters via teleconference.
The Governor suggested without stocking trout, the DNR’s hatcheries would be put in a serious bind with nowhere to keep the fish as they continue to grow. Sources inside the agency indicated a lack of manpower and equipment to immediately clean out the hatchery and stock all of the fish at once.
A source furthermore suggested cleaning out 500,000 pounds of trout from the hatchery immediately into the state’s largest streams would draw hundreds and possibly thousands of anglers to a handful of stream banks, causing an even bigger problem than the normal stocking process.
“We want people to go out and enjoy fishing. We want people to get out in the outdoors. This is where people can really get apart, we’re not going to stop our trout stocking. That’s silly in my book,” Justice said.
While trout stocking will continue, there will be some changes. Justice announced all State Park lodges will be closed until further notice. According to the Governor, 69 percent of the lodge guests are from out of state. The fear is out of state guests could potentially bring the virus to West Virginia and pose a risk to the lodge staff.
Although lodges will be closing, the State Parks’, cabins, campgrounds, hiking trails and the parks themselves will remain open. The Governor encouraged those who are well to enjoy a state park while maintaining constant social distance.
The Hatfield-McCoy Trails are also a major draw from out-of-state riders. The Governor noted those trails will be shut down until further notice as of midnight Friday.