Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pennsylvania, three-quarters of stocked trout streams

In Pennsylvania, three-quarters of stocked trout streams are on private land, but in Erie it is more than 90 percent.
"If everyone [there] posted tomorrow, it would end fishing as we know it," Tredinnick said.
He said just 36 stream miles remain open on Erie's three largest creeks -- Walnut, Elk and Twenty Mile -- although fishing pressure has more than tripled in the past decade, with steelheaders making 200,000 stream visits each fall and pouring $9.5 million into the local economy. The Fish Commission spends about $750,000 a year stocking one million juvenile steelhead.
Some landowners profit from state-stocked fish because they lease access to select anglers and guides.
"Fish do swim," Tredinnick said, "but if we're spending money to put fish out there, we want the public to have the right to enjoy them. We don't want fishing to become a sport where only folks who can pay get to fish."
Erie's first "pay to play" lodge opened at Gudgeonville on Elk Creek last fall in what is seen by some as the start of an ominous trend that should spur the state to explore new options.
"Declare Elk Creek navigable," said John Bodner, owner of Fish Man Guide Services and a founding member of the Pennsylvania Steelhead Association. "Maybe there's a law in the books somewhere that Elk Creek is navigable. Extend the Erie Bluffs State Park the whole length of Elk to I-79 or create a streamway or a greenway the whole length of the stream."
The issue of navigability has never been pursued with regard to Elk, Walnut or Twenty Mile creeks and it would take a court or the legislature to initiate such action, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which keeps a list of the Commonwealth's navigable waterways. Though a declaration of navigability could open up stream sections now off-limits to wading anglers, the Fish Commission is unwilling to spearhead the challenge.
"Given the landowner situation in Erie, property rights isn't a fight we're going to pick, at least for now," Tredinnick said. "It would have a positive benefit once you're on the water, but it wouldn't get you to the water."
Bodner's idea of a greenway on Elk Creek is more realistic, according to Riley, who has seen similar efforts succeed in other states.
"Landowners are typically a lot more open to establishing a greenbelt, especially if it's done on a county government level," he said. "It's more grassroots. Locals tend to trust their county officials more than the state, because they know the county folks better. State and federal government is so far removed, they feel they have no control and no ownership.
"We need creative ways to keep all our creeks open, or the day will come when there won't be any access left."

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