Celebrating 150 Years of Fish Management
Vermont Freshwater Fishing
By Eric Palmer,
Director of Fisheries, Vermont Fish & Wildlife
Since the founding of the Vermont Fish Commission in 1866 (predecessor to today’s Fish & Wildlife Department), Vermont has been committed to managing fish species and their habitats statewide. A century and a half has led to many notable achievements and milestones.
Early on, efforts were focused on protecting habitat and restoring fish populations. Fish hatcheries were built in various locations across the state, beginning with Roxbury in 1891 until the completion of Ed Weed Hatchery in Grand Isle in 1991. The department also put significant effort into fishing access areas, and there are now 186 — more than any other state in the Northeast.
Meanwhile, environmental regulations such as the Clean Water Act and Act 250 have helped the department’s ongoing efforts to keep fish habitats clean and healthy.
Conserving habitat for native fish requires a diverse set of tools and a dedicated staff. From fish regulations to review of development activities, from habitat restoration to outreach programs, fish in Vermont’s lakes and rivers are thriving through the efforts of Department staff.
There are many fish success stories in Vermont: We have world-class bass fisheries, healthy wild lake trout in inland lakes and abundant salmon in Lake Champlain. The restoration of salmon in Lake Champlain was made possible through a balance of fish stocking, fishing regulations and sea lamprey control. What’s more, Lake Champlain serves as home to approximately 80 fish species, a freshwater diversity found nowhere else in New England.
Additionally, the department has seen success in restoring walleye populations and protecting muskellunge and endangered lake sturgeon.
Vermont is fortunate to have a wealth of wild trout populations, and our program prides itself on having helped with the restoration of wild trout in many streams throughout the state. The abundant trout populations indicate a healthy environment as they need cold, clean water and complex and connected habitats.
The ability for fish and other aquatic species to travel up or down streams — also known as aquatic organism passage — is front and center in many restoration projects. Fisheries staff work with highway engineers, watershed and angler organizations, municipalities, and other state, federal and private natural resource agencies to identify, design, fund and implement critical projects that support wild trout movement through culverts and other man-made structures. In recent years, cooperative dam removal projects have also become an important part of the department’s wild trout passage initiatives.
None of these gains would have been possible without the long-term financial support of anglers whose fishing licenses, fishing equipment purchases and boat registrations have funded the department’s efforts. The Sport Fish Restoration federal excise tax on fishing gear is a major revenue source for state fish and wildlife agencies nationwide; it has helped to ensure that future generations will have clean accessible waters and healthy fish populations to enjoy for decades to come.
The Board of Fish Commissioners stocked fish in the late 1800s in response primarily to aquatic habitat degradation caused by deforestation, construction of dams, and accumulation of silt and sawdust. At the time, only 25 percent of Vermont was forested.
Roxbury Hatchery was Vermont’s first hatchery. It was built at a prime natural groundwater spring with a $2,400 legislative appropriation.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Vermont fisheries workers used nets and heavy rowboats to survey fish populations.
Vermont’s fish management — which includes monitoring (top) and stocking (middle) — improved dramatically with funding from the federal Sport Fish Restoration Act in 1950. Anglers support the work through a tax on fishing tackle and motor boat fuels, and by purchasing their fishing licenses. Strong natural reproduction of trout in streams (bottom) is a reliable indicator of the presence of good habitat.
A healthy wild brown trout collected from a small stream in Rutland County.