Giving nature (and anglers) a hand

CHATFIELD — With a toss of Travis Viker's net Monday, about 50 more 10- to 12-inch rainbow trout went airborne, then splashed into Mill Creek, thus ensuring that anglers will have a better chance of having trout in their creel this weekend.

The Department of Natural Resources fisheries technician was taking part in a decades-old program of stocking trout in southeast Minnesota streams, but a it's a program that has decreased over the years because of better habitat. It might get cut even further if money for stocking decreases.

This year, the DNR will stock 77,500 rainbow trout in 20 streams or ponds in this region. Most of them are big enough to keep, but some are fingerlings only a few inches long. Rainbow trout don't reproduce but are put there to be caught, said Ron Benjamin, DNR fisheries supervisor in Lanesboro.

In addition, the DNR will stock from 290,000 to 456,750 fingerling brown trout in 18 streams in the Root River system and one in the Whitewater River.

Additionally, the DNR might release large brood stock trout no longer needed in the hatchery, he said.


Raising fish in local DNR hatcheries and stocking them in streams is done because some places, such as ponds in Foster Arend Park in Rochester and a Laneboro park, have no reproduction. Those ponds get a lot of fishing pressure.

Hatchery-raised fish are also put into some streams with poorer habitat for reproduction but enough habitat for additional fish to grow. Finally, some fish will be stocked to reintroduce trout into streams that once had fish but lost them due to destruction of habitat.

The DNR regularly checks streams to see if they need stocking, Benjamin said. From 2003 to 2008, it discontinued stocking 257,000 brown trout fingerlings in 60.11 miles of 11 streams, according to DNR statistics.

In decades past, the DNR stocked even more fish because the streams were badly degraded from poor land use. Instead of putting all the DNR money into stocking, it and groups like Trout Unlimited put money into the streams so they would have more places for trout to reproduce and grow. Also, better land use away from the streams meant less sediment covering spawning beds and fewer "gully washer" rains that also wiped out habitat.

The habitat restoration effort has worked. "According to more than 2,400 DNR fish population surveys, the trout population in southeastern Minnesota has tripled since 1970 and the average number of browns more than 12 inches long increased from 26 per stream mile in the 1970s to 55 in the 1990s," the DNR reported. The large majority of brown trout are wild, he said.

That being said, the newest stocking question is budgetary, he said. The DNR is asking the Minnesota Legislature to increase the price fishing and hunting licenses to keep up with inflation, and the cost of the trout stamp hasn't increased in more than a decade. Also, as anglers get older, some won't need to buy a trout stamp, he said.

If the Legislature says no, then something will have to go, and some of that could be some stocking, Benjamin said. That is not certain. "We don't know what will happen if there are budget cuts," he said.

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