July 21, 2008

Trout Census Holding Steady

By Keith Whitcomb Jr., Bennington Banner, Vt.

Jul. 19--ARLINGTON -- Efforts to improve the fish population in the Batten Kill seem to be working, according to Kenneth Cox, a state fisheries biologist.

A fish census was taken Thursday about 1,000 yards upstream from where the Green River flows into the Batten Kill. According to last year's fish census, the population of small to mid-sized trout in one section of the Batten Kill rose 600 percent, said Cynthia Browning, executive director of the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance.

Cox said that without tallying the final numbers, he believed the fish population this year to be comparable to last year's.

Browning said a further jump wasn't expected, but it was encouraging to see that the numbers looked to be the same.

Taking a fish census involves the use of a pole with a hoop at the end of it. The hoop, powered by a generator, produces a DC current which both draws fish in and immobilizes them. The fish are then netted and placed in tanks where they are counted and measured, Cox said.

Three teams of five people, one team to a canoe, took the fish census along with two extras to count the fish that were caught, he said.

Young-of-the-year (a technical term for fish hatched last spring) and yearling trout are the fish of interest in the study. Their presence indicates a healthy population that can sustain itself, Cox said.

In the mid-1990s, studies and reports from the angling community showed a steep decline in the fish population in the Batten Kill. The theory was that development along the river and its use by people had contributed to a lack of cover needed for young fish to survive, Cox said.

In 2006 the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance along with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the Bennington County Conservation District, the Natural Resource and Conservation Service, and the Clearwater and Southwest Vermont Chapters of Trout Unlimited, funded and worked on a project to provide cover and habitat for brook and brown trout in the river, Browning said.

The base of operations for the work was on the Lesko property.

Thirty-nine rootwad structures and individual cover trees were placed on alternating sides of the river and 45 slate rock feeding stations were set up in the riverbed, she said. These structures provide protection from predators as well as adequate water temperatures.

People familiar with the Batten Kill prior to the work may notice a difference in the way the river looks. "We're trying to make these things look as natural as possible," Cox said. Trees and rocks were used in the construction as opposed to concrete formations.

Only about a third of the water channel has been added to, Cox said. Initially, there was some concern among outfitters that the river would become more difficult to navigate by kayak and canoe, but so far Cox has heard no complaints.

Rivers are naturally supposed to have trees fall in them sometimes, Browning said. Some trees have been planted along the Batten Kill with the idea that they will fall in the river in about 40 years, she said. Part of the alliance's efforts has been to educate the public and land owners about natural objects in the river.

The alliance plans to continue its habitat restoration efforts for 2008. Vermont fisheries biologists have suggested adding habitat to longer stretches of the river instead of creating isolated habitats, Browning said. Half-mile reaches above Benedict Crossing and spots near the Arlington Recreation Park are being considered.


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