October 27, 2006

An eight-fish limit at Scofield -- why?

PRICE - Come January 1, 2007 an eight fish limit will go into effect at Scofield Reservoir. This doubles the number of trout an angler can take home from this or any other reservoir in the state! A lot of anglers are asking why, and offering their opinions on fishing forums and at tackle shops.

Scofield Reservoir
Scofield Reservoir - Photo by Brent Stettler

The decision to raise the limit came after careful deliberation and research. For the past 20 years, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has maintained a constant stocking effort at Scofield Reservoir. Since 1986, more than a half million fish (600,000 trout) have been stocked every year. Seventy five percent of the planters consist of "fingerlings" or three-inch trout. The remaining 25 percent are classified as sub-catchables or six-inchers.

During the same 20 year time period, the number of angling hours has dropped from 350,000 to 115,000 per year. Angling hours are calculated from creel surveys, where a survey technician contacts anglers and gathers information about fishing success and trip length. Spaced across a 20 year period, three year-long surveys were conducted at Scofield Reservoir to collect this type of data.

Based on the data, the total catch rate (not to be confused with rate of harvest) has been relatively stable. In 1986, the catchrate was 0.9 fish per hour. In 2005, the catchrate dropped only slightly to 0.7 fish per hour. DWR fisheries standards consider a catchrate of 0.5 fish per hour or better to be acceptable. This statistic averages angling success of all types of fishing methods and anglers of all skill levels.

Over the years an interesting sociological trend has developed. Today, Scofield Reservoir anglers appear to be less harvest oriented than they have been in the past. In 1986, 0.7 fish per hour were harvested by the average Scofield Reservoir angler. Twenty years later, the harvest rate dropped to only 0.3 fish per hour, despite high catch rates.

Sport Fish Biologist, Justin Hart, reports that over the past 20 years, fish stocking has remained constant. The angling catch rate has remained high. The number and size of trout sampled in gill net surveys have been pretty static. The only significant change is the number of anglers and angler hours at the reservoir. Hart concludes that an increase in the daily bag limit is biologically justified and should not have a negative effect on angling quality. Scofield Reservoir has traditionally been managed as a family fishery. This regulation change is an attempt to bring that type of resource back to the angling public.

Regional Aquatics Manager, Paul Birdsey conducted a public opinion poll in 2005 to learn what Scofield Reservoir anglers thought about changing the four fish limit. About 3/4 of the respondents wanted to maintain a family type fishery as opposed to creating a trophy fishery like Strawberry. Half of the family oriented respondents favored raising the limit and about half favored leaving the limit unchanged. This left Birdsey without any clear direction from the public. However, of the group indicating they wanted no change in the regulation, most were opposed to reducing the current stocking level. This was not a viable option given the reduced number of fishermen at the reservoir. Because there has not been a significant increase in the angler or gill net catch rate corresponding to the lower harvest by anglers, Birdsey believes that a large number of stocked fish were not surviving because of competition for food and space. This meant either the number of fish stocked had to be reduced, or the harvest had to be increased. The DWR opted to raise the limit to eight fish on a three year experimental basis to determine if this problem could be alleviated.

By increasing the limit at Scofield Reservoir, fisheries managers expect to maintain the traditionally high angling catch rates, while increasing the harvest rate to get a better return on stocked fish. As a side benefit, the DWR hopes to bring more families back to the reservoir, which has been under-utilized in recent years.

by Brent Stettler