Trout truck, new regs arrive on Martha’s Vineyard

A net full of trout made the final plunge in the 2011 stocking. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

One day after the official start of spring, on Wednesday, March 21, a Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) tank truck is scheduled to arrive on Martha’s Vineyard with tangible evidence of the seasonal shift.

The truck will deliver a mix of brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout to four Island ponds — about 1,000 trout in all carried over from the Sandwich State Fish Hatchery, Steve Hurley, DFW Southeast District Fisheries Manager, told The Times.

The truck’s route will include Duarte’s Pond, Seth’s Pond and Old Mill Pond in West Tisbury and Upper Lagoon Pond in Oak Bluffs. A second stocking is scheduled for April 12, and a third in early May, just about the time a fisherman’s thoughts turn to saltwater and the arrival of striped bass.

The arrival of the trout truck will herald another change, the implementation of a new state law that prohibits the use of any lead fishing sinkers and lead jigs that weigh less than 1 ounce in fresh water.

Prohibited tackle includes split-shot, round lead balls about the size of a pea, a mainstay of freshwater fishing for generations, and jigs, bullet weights, lead sinkers, or jigs which are painted, “skirted,” or encased in a coating.

There are some exceptions to the prohibition against lead, according to DFW, for example lead-core fishing line, and weighted flies. And there are numerous alternatives available for purchase at local tackle shops and in catalogs, but fishermen can expect to pay more to be green.

For example, in a popular catalog a standard one-quarter ounce lead worm weight costs 6 cents. The same style weight costs 14 cents in steel, 76 cents in brass, and $2.10 in tungsten.

The law has been on the books since 2009. At the time the Fisheries and Wildlife Board unanimously voted to approve the new regulation it did so with the provision that the regulation go into effect January 1, 2012 in order to give manufacturers and anglers time to adjust to these changes, according to DFW.

The regulation was implemented primarily to protect the state’s small population of Common Loons (Gavia immer), a state listed species of special concern.

According to DFW, the common loon nested in Massachusetts historically, but it was extirpated in the late 19th century. In 1975, however, a pair of loons was discovered nesting at Quabbin Reservoir. Today, there are a total of 32 nesting pairs of loons on several different lakes and ponds in the Commonwealth.

Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs support the core of the state’s total loon population with 16 and 4 nesting pairs, respectively. Ingestion of lead fishing gear is the single largest cause of mortality for adult loons in New England, according to a research study conducted by the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Just a single lead sinker can poison a loon, researchers said. A bird with lead poisoning will have physical and behavioral changes including loss of balance, gasping, tremors and impaired ability to fly.

There are at least two ways loons are ingesting lead sinkers, DFW said. “One way is when loons take minnows being used as bait. In eating the minnow, the loon breaks off the line and then swallows the hook, line, swivel and sinker,” according to DFW. “A second way appears to be when loons ingest small pebbles from lake bottoms and inadvertently swallow lead sinkers or are actively selecting them for some reason (perhaps because of their unique size, shape or shininess).”

DFW said all sportsmen should support the goal of reducing loon mortality. “Most anglers who have experienced the presence of loons would agree that sightings of these magnificent birds and the enjoyment of their iconic, eerie calls adds to the quality of any fishing experience,” DFW said.

Fishermen are allowed a limit of three trout per day from ponds. Fishermen 15 years of age and older must have a Massachusetts freshwater fishing license. Licenses are available from town clerks and online.

The trout stocking program is not supported by the state’s general tax fund. Fishing and sporting license buyers pay for the stocked trout. MassWildlife, the umbrella agency, is supported by license buyers and federal taxes on fishing equipment (Wallop-Breaux) and hunting equipment (Pittman-Robertson).

The Sandwich Hatchery produces brown trout (9,000 averaging nine inches, 9,000 averaging 13 inches and 100 broodstock browns averaging 18 inches) for stocking in Cape and Island ponds. Brown trout are not native to Massachusetts.

One Island pond slated for stocking, Mill Pond in West Tisbury, is the focus of an effort to remove the dam used to create the shallow pond and restore native sea run brook trout to the stream. A similar effort in Falmouth has proved succesful.

The trout stocking program also supplements the popular annual Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun club kids trout derby, scheduled this year on May 5. In addition to state-provided trout, the club pays for an additional stocking of trout to introduce youngsters to the fun of fishing.

The selection of ponds and streams to stock and the number of fish allotted each depends on fishing pressure, acreage, trout habitat, and ease of access to anglers, according to Fisheries and Wildlife.