The Virginia Stocked Trout Program: An Evaluation of Current and Former Anglers

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Virginia Tech

Trout anglers comprise about 20% of all anglers in Virginia and expended > 1-million angler-days in pursuit of Virginia trout. Stocked trout account for approximately 80% of the trout angling effort in Virginia (O'Neill 2001) through a program managed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). Each year, the VDGIF stocks > 1-million catchable-sized trout in about 180 waters in Virginia.

Despite the popularity of stocked trout fishing in Virginia, several factors potentially threaten the future of the stocked trout program in Virginia. First, previous surveys indicate that stocked trout anglers are less satisfied with their fishing experiences in Virginia than other species specialists. Additionally, the sale of stocked trout fishing licenses declined 31% between 2006 and 2013. Revenue generated from the sale of trout licenses is a significant source of income that helps fund the stocked trout program.

Given the popularity of stocked trout fishing in Virginia and the considerable effort of VDGIF in managing the stocked trout program, my research objectives were to 1) identify homogenous angler groups seeking stocked trout in Virginia, 2) compare motivations, satisfaction, and preferences of stocked trout anglers in Virginia, and 3) examine the extent to which prior satisfaction and constraints relate to future participation.

To address objectives 1 and 2, I administered a mail survey of 5,400 licensed trout anglers in Virginia. Using cluster analysis, I identified four distinct groups of stocked trout anglers: traditional anglers, generalists, occasional specialists, and specialists. Traditional anglers constituted the largest group, comprised of those who fished with bait, harvested the stocked trout they caught, fished more frequently than other groups, had low centrality, and invested less money in trout fishing than did other groups. Generalists included those who took fishing-related vacations, fished with a variety of terminal tackle, harvested their catch, and demonstrated low invest little in fishing for stocked trout. Occasional specialists fished infrequently, had low centrality, invested little money in fishing, fished with lures and flies, and released the stocked trout they caught. Specialists had high centrality and investment, fished with flies, and almost always released the stocked trout they caught.

Psychological and natural-setting attributes were stronger motives to fish for stocked trout than were fishery and social motives. Anglers rated catching fish as being more important than keeping fish to eat. Overall, anglers were satisfied only somewhat with stocked trout fishing in Virginia. However, anglers rated satisfaction higher with activity-general characteristics, such as the setting and relaxing, than they did activity-specific factors, such as number or size of fish caught.

Results of stated preference choice models indicated that anglers preferred unannounced stockings rather than stockings announced in advance. Furthermore, anglers preferred stocking of streams rather than lakes, stocking taking place during the spring, and catching six 10-inch trout rather than fewer, larger trout. Compared to weekday stockings, anglers did not show a preference for weekend stockings, despite comments made at public meetings suggesting that many anglers preferred weekend stockings. Although four specialization levels exist for Virginia's stocked trout anglers, choice models suggest that preferences coalesced into only two groups: preferences of specialists differed from those of traditional anglers, generalists, and occasional specialists. When compared to the status quo fishing trip, traditionalists, generalists, and occasional specialists preferred a prior announced stocking, whereas specialists preferred a delayed announcement and catching fewer, but larger, trout.

To address the third objective, I surveyed 1,100 lapsed trout anglers (individuals who had purchased licenses twice between September 1, 2011, and August 31, 2013, but did not purchase one between September 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014). I found that anglers who placed high importance on non-catch-related factors (e.g., being outdoors, enjoying a relaxing experience, experiencing a natural setting) were more likely to fish for stocked trout again in the future. Constraints did not mediate the effect of prior satisfaction on future participation. However, structural constraints were related positively to future participation, suggesting that individuals who had more time and family commitments were more likely to negotiate those constraints and resume participation in the future.

stocked trout, angler specialization, satisfaction, lapsed angler