The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is studying whether or not to raise the minimum size for trout that anglers can keep. Most stocked trout, like this rainbow, average 10 to 11-inches long. The minimum size to creel is 7-inches long. A change in the regulation may help young wild trout grow to a larger size.
Since 1983, the minimum size for trout, found in public waterways, to be kept has been 7 inches.
In an effort to protect young, wild trout, the agency is undergoing a study to see if the minimum size should be increased.
During the regular trout season, which starts the first Saturday of April and runs through Labor Day, anglers are permitted to keep five trout that are at least 7 inches long. During the extended season, the day after Labor Day through the third Sunday in February, the creel limit is reduced to three trout with the same 7-inch minimum size.
“A thorough review of the biological and social data is needed,” David Nihart, chief of fisheries management for the Fish and Boat Commission, said during a June 27 Fisheries and Hatcheries Committee meeting.
The agency has been collecting data on streams for decades, and staff members can access that information to review distribution sizes of stocked fish as well as looking into wild trout numbers and sizes.
This spring, when the agency conducted a survey with anglers, one of the questions involved the minimum size and creel limits. The rough draft of the survey results is still being reviewed by agency staff members.
“It’s premature at this point to say what we learned in regards to these specific questions,” Nihart said. The last similar survey was done in 2007.
The staff is planning a boots-on-the-ground survey of anglers on different waterways in 2024 that will include the minimum size and creel limit for trout.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks brown trout that average 10-11 inches in length for public waterways.
The agency will be reviewing how an increase on the minimum size will impact fish stocked by the agencies, its cooperative sportsmen group partner hatcheries and private stockings.
Dan Pastore, fish commissioner from Erie County serving the first district, said the reports on the state’s hatcheries reveals the stocked trout are “significantly larger than 7 inches, and my understanding is that most co-op (nurseries) stock larger fish, around 9 inches. The question really is: If we and the co-ops are stocking fish significantly larger than 7 inches but we are allowing you to take a fish just over 7 inches, we’re effectively authorizing the harvesting of wild trout.”
Pastore said it will have to be a policy decision whether the agency wants to allow the harvesting of wild trout in that size limit.
“If we were to go with a size increase, it would be intended to protect additional wild trout, but it would also have implication to our stocked program,” Kris Kuhn, director of the Bureau of Fisheries for the agency, said.
The vast majority of the wild brook trout in the state are under 9 inches.
“We’re going to look at data that supports an 8-inch limit and data that would inform a decision on 8 and 9 inches,” Kuhn said. If the minimum size is changed to 9, most wild brook would be catch and release.
The average length of a stocked trout from the agency’s hatcheries is between 10 and 11 inches long, but some trout are smaller.
“In looking at sizes of fish that were stocked in recent years, the vast majority of those are greater than 10 inches. A minimum size of 9 inches would not be problematic on the surface. However, we need a better understanding of how many fish are stocked below 9 inches, there would be very few. But we can’t be in the business of stocking trout less than the minimum size. The stocked trout program is intended to be a put-and-take fishery,” Kuhn explained.
The agency is planning an in-depth multifaceted evaluation through 2024. Afterwards, the staff will present its findings to the agency’s Fisheries and Hatcheries Committee for consideration.
“We’re just starting to consider this in detail,” Kuhn said. “We have a lot more work to do to make an informed recommendation to the board based on sound science.”
Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at[email protected] and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on this website’s homepage under your login name. Follow him on Facebook@whipkeyoutdoors,Twitter@whipkeyoutdoors and Instagram atwhipkeyoutdoors.