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For Western New York anglers, one of the surest signs of spring is the stocking of fish in local streams and lakes.

The yearly release is conducted by the New York Department Of Environmental Conservation, a program that began in the late 1980's. Each year, the DEC stocks almost a million pounds of young fish to almost 1,200 bodies of water across the state.

The fish begin life in one of the state's twelve hatcheries, where they're raised for up to two years.

Once ready, the young trout are transported by truck to each location, where a small army of volunteers helps release them.

Scott Cornett is a Fisheries Biologist with the NY DEC.

"We try to do the stocking as close to opening day as possible, hoping that the water has warmed up. This year it's been an unusually warm spring, we have conditions that are more normal in late April to early May stream conditions."

"They won't stock if it's really at flood stage or real bad conditions. You don't want to put the fish in when the water conditions are real cold, or real high, you can lose a lot of fish."

Stocking fish is a precise science, and there are a school of different factors in determining when and how many fish will be released...and even if a stream will get stocked at all.

For example, the East Koy Creek gets fish every year. But its nearby neighbor the Wiscoy...doesn't require stocking at all.

Cornett explains:

"Environmental reasons, the water gets a little bit too warm in some sections for providing really good amounts of reproduction like we have just over the hill in Wiscoy Creek, that stream we don't stock."

"So the water gets a little bit too warm sometimes and we don't get quite enough natural reproduction. We do have almost continuous public fishing rights on this stream. There's a lot of public access, so that's another reason, it's pretty popular."

Jerry Brown has helped stock a lot of fish, and he's been volunteering to help the DEC for over fifty years.

"We stock from Hermitage down through Gainesville, Lamont, we've got about ten or twelve stops, and we usually put several thousand fish in every year."

The process is supported by dollars taken from fishing licenses, so it is the anglers themselves who fund the program. The process doesn't stop once the fish are released, the DEC continues to monitor the creek throughout the year.

Cornett tells 2 The Outdoors:

"The stocking also goes along with an angler survey, find out how many people are fishing and what they're catching. We also do fish population surveys in May and August to see what's left here of the stocked fish in both of those months, as well as how many wild fish are left in the stream."

Improved fishing opportunities are not only a boon to anglers...local economies benefit as well.

"Certainly, where we stock trout, it brings a lot of anglers in," says Cornett. "They spend money, they buy things at local stores, they purchase gasoline, and fishing equipment."

Brown agrees: "It helps the restaurants and the business places, it all helps the local economy."

From hatchery to stream, stocking fish is hard work, and it certainly doesn't go unappreciated as anglers throughout the state reap the benefits of the DEC's efforts. Efforts that go far in adding to New York's reputation as one of the richest fisheries in North America.

Cornett:

"We've got a lot of diversity, whether it's stocked trout, we've got a lot of wild trout streams that we don't need to stock. We have Steelhead fisheries in Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the tributaries; (and) excellent Bass fishing in a lot of lakes."

"It's really like that throughout the state, we really have a lot of good fishing. In a lot of ways the fishing is as good as it's been in many streams as it has been in a hundred years."

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