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Fishing outfitters have mixed concerns over New River changes

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — More than a decade ago, many within the commercial rafting industry in West Virginia fought hard to have a catch and release regulation on black bass implemented on a stretch of the upper New River.

After a decade, the restriction on the stretch from the I-64 bridge at Sandstone down river to the Grandview Sandbar has been lifted. The Natural Resources Commission recently voted to remove the catch-and-release section, but also implemented a slot limit for the entire length of the waterway in West Virginia.

Outfitters like Dave Arnold with Adventures on the Gorge have mixed feelings about the action.

“Everybody loves the slot for the entire river. That’s a really good thing, but it doesn’t make sense that they would get rid of the catch and release. It seems like two separate things,” Arnold said in last weekend’s edition of West Virginia Outdoors.

Division of Natural Resources Assistant Chief for Fisheries Mark Scott indicated the catch and release regulation had done very little biologically to improve the size of smallmouth bass on that stretch of the waterway. However, he reasoned the slot limit would likely have a much greater impact to improve chances for catching larger bass based on the available data from neighboring Virginia who have a slot limit on their part of the New River.

“I think if most people were honest I think they would say that,” said Arnold. “Not everybody would say that, but I’d go along with Mark. All that I’ve ready says if you really want to effect the fishery, the slot works better. If we give this ten years and it doesn’t work, I’ll be really surprised.”

The science and data are hard to argue, but Arnold points out there is another element which is perception. Fishing outfitters up until now, could market commercial trips on the section of the river and tout the catch and release regulation. Arnold said removing the regulation takes away an effective marketing tool for their business and ultimately for the state of West Virginia and the tourism industry.

“Catch and release is a really special thing to certain people and a lot of our clients,” he explained. “It’s the reason you have a Christmas present and you wrap it. It’s the wrapping that makes it interesting. Catch and release is what catches peoples eye and what makes them come here.”

Arnold admitted their concern was more about marketing than fisheries management.

It was one of a couple of catch-and-release regulations the Commission opted to lift. A measure to remove catch and release on 4.5 miles of the Cranberry River has drawn much heavier criticism. Arnold worries it sets bad precedent.

“The trend it creates scares me because it’s important. If you go out west fishing and you want to go trout fishing, you’re going to be attracted to blue ribbon streams which are catch and release. It attracts people to those streams,” Arnold said.

“It’s important. Whether the science is there or not, I’ll leave that up to the scientists. We’re going to miss it,” he added.

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