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Disease impacts spring trout stocking

Hatchery raised trout
Hatchery raised trout
B. Sniatkowski

Trout anglers will encounter fewer fish this spring thanks to the breakout of a bacterial disease at the Pequest Trout Hatchery. Furunculosis, a fatal bacterial disease, first struck the hatchery last September and 25,000 trout were euthanized to prevent its spread. A second, more widespread infection occurred recently with 114,000 brook trout being affected by the highly contagious disease. The euthanizing of these trout will make a significant dent in the usual 600,000 trout that are released each spring. Thanks to the reduced numbers the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife announced that the trout stocking season will be limited to four weeks instead of the usual six.

Even before the latest outbreak, wildlife officials planned major changes in waters to be stocked in an effort to protect naturally reproducing trout populations. Officials were concerned that though the remaining trout tested free of the disease, they could be carriers and infect holdover trout populations. Most waters listed as trout production streams, trophy trout lakes and holdover trout lakes will not receive any stocking this spring. Also included are many waters adjacent to these. The list includes popular opening day destinations such as Round Valley, Clinton and Merrill Creek reservoirs, Green Turtle Pond, Shepherd and Waywayanda lakes, Furnace Brook, Little Flat Brook, the Pequannock and Wanaque rivers and the South Branch Raritan River.

While these waters still have trout available, there will be none of the easily caught, newly stocked trout sought by many anglers each spring. The blow to anglers will be softened by increased allocations of trout in many "put and take" waters, those that don't support trout year-round, as well as releasing trout in some waters not traditionally trout stocked. In the latter category, the Passaic River below the Great Falls and the Raritan River below the Duke estate will receive 28,000 trout each, putting trout fishing with easy reach of many who usually have to travel farther to find trout stocked waters. The Hackensack River below Oradell Reservoir will receive 12,000 trout, while Farrington Lake and parts of the lower Rahway River are among the other non-traditionally trout stocked waters that will receive significant allocations of fish. For a complete list of allocations see the NJDEP website.

DEP officials believe that furunculosis was introduced by wild birds that sometimes feed on hatchery fish in their open air raceways. The bacteria is only considered to fatal to salmonids and is not a danger to other game species such as bass, pickerel, pike and walleye. Brook and brown trout are particularly susceptible to the disease. Officials emphasize that there are no human health issues associated with this outbreak and consumption of hatchery raised fish is safe.