Salmon Crowding Brookies?

A column about declining Eastern brook trout populations throughout the Northeast prompted a response from West County sportsman Bill Meyers, who identified a problem not mentioned in “Eastern Brook Trout: Status and Threats,” published by Trout Unlimited for the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture.
Meyers’ point is sure to ruffle feathers, which should come as no shock, given the source; Meyers is no shrinking violet when it comes to sportsmen’s issues.

The Meyers issue confronting West County “squaretails?” Well, try this one on for size: the immature Atlantic salmon being stocked annually into feeder streams of the Deerfield/Connecticut River system.

Hmmmm?

“A group of us who fish for native brookies has had a problem for years,” wrote Meyers in an e-mail. “The invasion of fingerling salmon into our native brookie habitat is the most serious problem confronting anglers today.”

Meyers says he’s mentioned this problem several times to state fisheries officials who offer deaf ears.

“Ask any native-brookie fisherman and they’ll tell you all they catch in the traditional mountain streams are aggressive salmon that have taken residence where they used to catch a lot of natives,” Meyers added. “It’s disappointing to see fry stocked in feeder streams where they have virtually a zero probability of achieving successful downstream passage once they mature, not to mention reaching returning to spawn as adults.

Meyers challenges locals to take a walk along the West County streams he’s referring to and assess the habitat, which he says is ideal to support a burgeoning brookie population. The problem, according to him, is that “the natives have been pushed out by someone who believes that by introducing all this salmon garbage into our mountain streams some act of God is going to happen. They’re barking up the wrong tree.”

An obviously irritated Meyers went on to criticize the Joint Venture, a brookie watchdog group made up of state and federal conservation groups, as a bureaucratic monstrosity that’ll ultimately prove ineffective. “This group will accomplish absolutely nothing other than establishing the brookie as threatened and trying to get federal/state monies to re-establish the population. Does this sound familiar, like a similar unsuccessful effort with another fish? They already destroyed a fishery that once offered exciting opportunities for fishermen. Hopefully some of the old-time native fishermen will speak up.”

I must admit Meyers is not the first local brook angler who’s complained to me loudly about pesky, stocked immature Atlantic salmon interfering with their trout-fishing. It’s a common complaint from people who fish some of my favorite old trout streams, such as West Brook in West Whately, the Bear and South rivers and Poland Brook in Conway, and Dragon Brook in Shelburne; and a good friend of mine has been wailing about the salmon in Clesson Brook for some time. The complaint is that the tiny voracious salmon attack any bait offered, live or artificial, and ultimately telegraph the angler’s presence, costing the angler trout he or she came to catch.

Atlantic-salmon-restoration true believers, even those who are Trout Unlimited members, have little sympathy for squeaky wheels like Meyers. It’s a greater-good issue to them, and thus trout fishermen are going to have to learn to deal with their “perceived” problem. It’s all about salmon with them, the glory fish that supersedes all others; and they’ll support this restoration effort against all odds, even impossible.

But how can these people justify turning their backs on the real native New England salmonoid, our Eastern brook trout, to many North America’s most beautiful freshwater fish?

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