Trends in Agency Use of Propagated Fishes as a Management Tool in Inland Fisheries
James R. Jackson, Jeff C. Boxrucker, and David W. Willis
Abstract.—The use of cultured fishes by fisheries agencies is a long-standing management technique. In recent decades, however, potential negative impacts of fish stocking programs have received increased attention, particularly as they affect native fish communities and the genetic integrity of wild fish populations. In 1994, a facilitated workshop was organized to develop recommended procedures for the use of cultured fishes that would be compatible with these broader environmental concerns. We administered a survey to state and provincial fisheries management agencies in the United States and Canada to determine the current status of fish culture and stocking programs and assess progress toward adoption of these procedures. With 54 of 62 agencies reporting, our results indicated that stocking programs continue to be an integral part of management programs, but that substantial progress has been made toward addressing concerns about potential negative effects of cultured fishes. The percentage of responding agencies reporting use of management plans in which stocking was considered as part of a larger management program more than doubled in the years since 1980. Consistent with this finding, agency emphasis on alternative management approaches was evidenced by a twofold greater increase in expenditures on habitat management programs relative to culture programs in six agencies that provided budget figures. The percentage of responding agencies evaluating appropriateness of stocking through the use of formal criteria on at least half the waters where cultured fish were used tripled since 1980, and decisions not to stock due to potential impacts on biodiversity or the genetic integrity of recipient fish communities were reported to be four times more likely today than in 1980. Emphasis on the use of native fishes in stocking programs since 1980 was reported to have increased for more than half the agencies responding to our survey, and the number of agencies reporting development of broodstock plans for at least some of the species they cultured also doubled since 1980. Agency perceptions of angler attitudes concerning the importance of stocking indicated that the percentage of anglers who believed that stocking was the primary or only solution to low fish abundance remained high, at 61%, a decline of only 27% from reported attitudes in 1980. While positive strides have been made by agencies toward more careful evaluation of the appropriateness of stocking for achieving management objectives and in the institution of programs to minimize impacts of cultured fishes, these policies have not been adopted by all agencies, nor are they routinely used on all stocked waters by the agencies that have them. To make continued progress, agencies may be required to make difficult decisions regarding allocation of funding, and a more concerted effort to educate anglers and reduce public pressure for stockings will be needed to create an atmosphere where reduced emphasis on stocking is possible. The American Fisheries Society should play a continuing role in providing opportunities for scientists and policy makers to interact and discuss prevailing and emerging issues relative to the use of propagated fishes in resource management.