Ceased stocking.

splinters

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Last year our club took the huge step of not stocking the river for the first time since 1947. This is part of an experimental three year moratorium. The proposal was mine, backed by information kindly supplied by Dr. Gaskell. The time must have been right because it went through committee relatively easily. The money saved is to be used for enhancement projects. So far so good.
This year the river is full of little wild fish. The bigger ones are still there but the river is stiff with three to six inch littl'uns. Members are wondering why this is so and grumbling. Pointing out that wee ones grow big isn't dicing any turnips with some of them. Pointing out that the big ones are still getting caught isn't impressing them either. There seems to be a belief that something has changed therefore something is wrong. Two main theories are held.
1. The stock fish used to eat the little ones.
2. Someone is secretly stocking the river.
I'm encouraging the stockies eat wildies theory as the logical conclusion is that this will not happen any more as the stockies die out. The pessimists say that without the population control of the stock fish the river will become a water full of tiddlers. They don't accept my contention that it will settle down and be better after a couple of years. Pointing out that wild fish can turn piscivorous too just gets a shrug unless I can guarantee it.
I know that nobody is stocking the river.
Does anyone have experience of this phenomenon?
Why all the extra fish?
I would love to be able to report something definite instead of bluffing it.
Any theories/knowledge more than welcome please.

Simon.
 

tangled

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Well without knowing anything about anything.....if this phenomenon is new and unique it's fair to start with the assumumption that it's something to do with the new no stocking policy.

The most obvious point is that there are fewer large fish to predate the smaller - but that assumes that larger fish are being removed. Are you 100% catch and release? Do you have a poaching problem? Have catch returns of declined?

Are your stocked fish sterile?
 

splinters

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Not 100% catch and release but so few people take fish as to be 95%.
No major poaching problems (as far as we know).
Catch returns remain in the 'I lost count range'.
I've had fish to a pound and a half this year, others have had them to two and a half. Lots in the ten to twelve inch range. The only confusion is the extraordinary number of little fish.
In recent years (10+) stockies have been diploids from native parents because of recurrent fish kills. Regulations prevent non native stocking. I don't think triploid browns are available over here.

S.
 

sewinbasher

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My club did something similar in 2003 on our Monnow fishery, we didn't completely stop stocking as we wanted members who like to take a fish to take stockies but stocking was severely reduced and all stockies were dye marked. We progressively reduced stocking from 750 over the 4 miles of the fishery to 200 just in the top 1 mile of the fishery making the bottom 1.5 miles almost a WBT only fishery with only single figures of stockies each season.

We encouraged members to return all non dye marked fish and the other part of the equation is that you've no chance of managing your fishery well unless you have full and accurate returns. We have about 90% of members submitting a fish by fish return recording the date, beat, length (not weight) and whether fish were dye marked or not. We also record all juveniles. Since we introduced this policy we have noticed a couple of things in the subsequent 13 years and these are:

1. The percentage of wild fish has increased from about 25% in 2003 to around 85% in 2015. This has not been steadily incremental, we quickly jumped from 25% to around 40% in a couple of years, then plateaued for a few years before another step up to the current 70 - 85% level.

2. As wild fish are not chapped when they get to 11" they grow on for a couple of seasons and we get bigger fish with fish as large as 22" being recorded and about 10% in a typical season exceeding 14" and in most seasons we see fish to 16/17" reported.

3. Juveniles (less than 11") are typically 25% of the catch.

4. The C&R rate is usually over 90% meaning that a good number of stockies are returned.

5. Within normal seasonal variations total catch and certainly the catch per visit has not declined but has improved.

We originally wanted to work towards a total cessation of stocking but are now content with the current low level if it means that no WBT are killed. Clubs are a democracy and as long as some members want to be able to take a few fish we have to cater for it.

I think that you will see the benefit but I can't stress too much that you need good data to back the policy up.
 
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splinters

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Thanks, I doubt if I could get the committee to submit returns never mind the membership. Our stockies were very tatty even when mended and easily distinguishable from the wild fish. I haven't caught any this year. Many members say they don't over winter at all. Interbreeding may not even be an issue. Any idea why the sudden increase in small fish? It really is very marked. I've never seen so many trout in the river. Could it be as simple as reduced predation?

S.
 

tangled

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There are only three explanations I can think of

1. lower predation - which you'd normally associate with lower numbers of predators, for which you'd jump straight to the conclusion that it's caused by fewer stocked fish. But if you're still catching plenty of larger fish, that's a difficulty. (Unless native fish don't predate smaller fish, whilst stockies do - unlikely.)

2. Better breeding conditions. Improvements to the river? Particularly conducive weather, river height? Maybe stockies interfere somehow with natural fish breeding?

3. Some egit has introduced a load of small fish - fish breeder gone bust?

Combinations of above
 

sewinbasher

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Thanks, I doubt if I could get the committee to submit returns never mind the membership. Our stockies were very tatty even when mended and easily distinguishable from the wild fish. I haven't caught any this year. Many members say they don't over winter at all. Interbreeding may not even be an issue. Any idea why the sudden increase in small fish? It really is very marked. I've never seen so many trout in the river. Could it be as simple as reduced predation?

S.
Our records show that usually between 1 and 3% of fish caught were dye marked stocked fish from previous years. We changed the position of the dye mark to differentiate the years of stocking but you also have to allow for the fact that the dye marks fade over time and not all stock fish from previous years will be identifiable as stocked fish.
 

splinters

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Tangled, I don't think our river has improved much if any recently.
I'm sure nobody has stocked it. There's only one other club on it and I checked with them. I'm aware of a hatchery going out of business but that was in Fermanagh, way too far away to be a viable source.
Unless something weird happened to encourage survival I keep coming back to lower predation.
Not the most upsetting mystery I've encountered I'll grant you, but interesting none the less.
Stocking stops---river bristles with little wild fish-----coincidence?
Really looking forward to two or three years from now.

Simon.
 

richardw

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Last year our club took the huge step of not stocking the river for the first time since 1947. This is part of an experimental three year moratorium. The proposal was mine, backed by information kindly supplied by Dr. Gaskell. The time must have been right because it went through committee relatively easily. The money saved is to be used for enhancement projects. So far so good.
This year the river is full of little wild fish. The bigger ones are still there but the river is stiff with three to six inch littl'uns. Members are wondering why this is so and grumbling. Pointing out that wee ones grow big isn't dicing any turnips with some of them. Pointing out that the big ones are still getting caught isn't impressing them either. There seems to be a belief that something has changed therefore something is wrong. Two main theories are held.
1. The stock fish used to eat the little ones.
2. Someone is secretly stocking the river.
I'm encouraging the stockies eat wildies theory as the logical conclusion is that this will not happen any more as the stockies die out. The pessimists say that without the population control of the stock fish the river will become a water full of tiddlers. They don't accept my contention that it will settle down and be better after a couple of years. Pointing out that wild fish can turn piscivorous too just gets a shrug unless I can guarantee it.
I know that nobody is stocking the river.
Does anyone have experience of this phenomenon?
Why all the extra fish?
I would love to be able to report something definite instead of bluffing it.
Any theories/knowledge more than welcome please.

Simon.
Check out the Haddon Estate experience. Have you introduced C&R only? The wild fish are finding it easier now to breed and thrive as they are not being ousted by boisterous stockfish. This leads to more fish. Not killing fish leads to more fish in a greater variety of sizes. The little fish will grow on and some will be eaten making even bigger fish in the process. You are doing the right thing but three years is not long enough to prove the out and out superiority of the new regime. Haddon's programme is now over a decade. The fish range from pin fry to utter monsters. The big fish used to be killed for display in the bar. Now they go back and so grow on to New Zealand proportions...
:thumbs:
richard
 

andygrey

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There could be an environmental factor at play here that has lead to a big increase in recruitment that has coincided with the cessation of stocking.
After the floods of 2007, in the words of an EA fisheries officer, the wild trout population in the Upper-Thames catchment 'went through the roof'. The 2007 floods happened in August and gave the gravels a really good clean resulting in a very favourable spawning environment for the following winter.
 

splinters

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Baby steps Richard, we've been stocking for a long time. Moratorium for three years then when the time comes, a motion before the AGM to continue the 'experiment'. A straight call to stop forever would have been lost. In the meantime I need to allay fears hence the question.
Andy, well we did have a very wet winter. Some worried that redds would be washed away. However I think these are too big to be last years eggs. I don't think we will see the results of last winters floods for a couple of years.

Simon.
 

Cap'n Fishy

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This is just guesswork...

It seems there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that stocking with fertile brown trout (regardless of provenance) doesn't help the breeding population. For why ever that is, if you label stockies as non-breeders, then they are competing with the native, wild fish for food, space, etc, and reducing the ability of wild fish to get on with the job of populating the river with fry.

Stop adding stockies, and the wild fish then have the place to themselves, and so can get on with the job of producing fry. This would explain the big increase in small fish.

Small fish grow into big fish. Sounds like you are doing the right thing.

Col
 

warrenslaney

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I think you are struggling to persuade people who are determined not to get it. You have got to leave them behind. Someone once told me that its going to talk a generation change before this movement really takes off. He meant these people need to die because they will never see sense and all the time they infect the atmosphere against it. One anti-wild person I once knew would spend the whole day with his back to the river complaining when he visited.

On a practical level, make sure those babies have somewhere to go when they are grown up. Find out what adult trout need and give it to them. It will be more fun watching and understanding rather than me telling you.
 

Paul G

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I don't know if this is stating the obvious...

But healthy rivers with thriving wild salmonid (including trout) populations follow a classic "pyramid" structure.

The high mortality of juvenile fish is "factored in" to the biology of trout. That is why they produce so many eggs. Typically (even in good habitat) around 95% of baby trout fail to reach their first birthday.

With each increase in year-class, you lose more individuals (although the drop-off is not as steep as in the first year of life). What this means is that you SHOULD always have many, many more small fish at the bottom of the pyramid in order to support the - fewer in number but much larger in size - adult fish at the top of the pyramid.

It is what you get with the species Salmo trutta in its natural state (at least where there are not habitat bottlenecks at particular life-stages/periodic pollution/extreme predation pressure).

What your membership seems to be reacting against is the change from a period of unnatural management that has been in place for longer than their angling experience. The artificial "flattening" of age/size-structure by adding so many uniformly large (i.e. bigger than 11 or 12 inch) fish has created a completely artificial situation...

None of those stocked fish would need to rely on that pyramid of siblings dying off each year to leave them in place as large, specimen fish.

Some timely context and guidance from Salisbury & District Angling Club on their own experiences with going wild:

[ame]https://youtu.be/fji0QE5eRlc[/ame]

Also - a fascinating story of the effect of stopping stocking on both wild trout and grayling catch returns on the River Ribble.

Playlist version (3 short videos back-to back):

[ame]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKxP5hzneus&list=PL6jO0i3yvmjdsbXTKe-lOXR6RqOIRWoy_[/ame]


PS - did I read the original post correctly where it said there has been no reduction in captures of larger fish; but the membership are unhappy about catching small fish on top of those numbers?...
 

ohanzee

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Should it come as a surprise, given that trout can breed, that they do a better job of it?
 

sewinbasher

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I think you are struggling to persuade people who are determined not to get it. You have got to leave them behind. Someone once told me that its going to talk a generation change before this movement really takes off. He meant these people need to die because they will never see sense and all the time they infect the atmosphere against it..........
Privately owned and run fisheries can set their own rules but clubs are generally democracies and have a) to respect the majority view and b) consider the financial implications of a body of disillusioned members leaving.
 

Cap'n Fishy

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... healthy rivers with thriving wild salmonid (including trout) populations follow a classic "pyramid" structure...
Absolutely. That is key. If you are going to produce a few large wild fish, you have to start with a great many small wild fish. Again, it sounds as if the river is exactly where is needs to be - full of wee wild fish.

Col
 

richardw

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Privately owned and run fisheries can set their own rules but clubs are generally democracies and have a) to respect the majority view and b) consider the financial implications of a body of disillusioned members leaving.
Clubs can still do this. It doesn't have to be just for fisheries in private hands. Democracy usually stops at the committee level in most clubs.

a) Nevertheless even these votes have to be won. The OP has managed to achieve this.

b) The costs of running the club should be reduced for the very short term by not buying farmed fish, so an exodus need not be as financially hard as first anticipated. A strong social media campaign informing the world that there is true sustainable wild trout fishing to be had should lead to a rapid replacement of the stocky bashers and the finances would be refreshed nicely. I'd be happy to blog it if asked so to do.

c) The next step after going wild is to impose C&R so the bigger fish stay where they belong, in the river.

d) As soon as is possible the club should hire a full-time, qualified, dedicated river keeper to ensure the river is optimised for wild trout fishing. Now that will take some diplomacy and careful negotiation but, once done, it leads to staggering improvements for fish, wildlife and anglers.

richard
 

warrenslaney

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Privately owned and run fisheries can set their own rules but clubs are generally democracies and have a) to respect the majority view and b) consider the financial implications of a body of disillusioned members leaving.
a) No they dont. A previous emanation of the club above me voted to go Wild/C&R by a majority some years ago but the authorities knew better and continued with the stockies. Still chucking them in...

b) A few years ago I gave a talk to a fishing club in my area about stopping stocking, before a vote by the members took place on the subject. I lost. Do you know why I lost? The Wild Trout Trust spoke against me for the very reason you identified. They continued for another five years before seeing sense. That club had a show of hands three years after stopping stocking, 124 in favour of continuing 1 against.

All clubs are different but if the club cannot afford to look after rivers properly, they should give up water and not continue to pollute them with fish farm trout.

---------- Post added at 11:14 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:10 AM ----------

d) As soon as is possible the club should hire a full-time, qualified, dedicated river keeper to ensure the river is optimised for wild trout fishing. Now that will take some diplomacy and careful negotiation but, once done, it leads to staggering improvements for fish, wildlife and anglers.

richard
I'm beginning to disagree with you on this point Richard. Clubs with committees manage a keeper and would never let that professional lead them and the members. Its partly the fault of the keepers for allowing it while knowing better but having worked alongside a committee, who tried to impose themselves over me on a daily basis, I have some sympathy for the keepers. I'd be swinging from the lower limbs of a large ash tree within 12 months if I had to do that again.
 
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