Great news! According to the DNR, the trout population in the Whitewater River in Southeastern Minnesota is bouncing back after the massive fish kill that occurred a little over a year ago. The kill, which I first wrote about last March, cost the south branch of the Whitewater thousands of trout, suckers, and crayfish, and left a lot of people concerned over the absence of a “smoking gun” and fearful of a repeat event.
In mid-October, population assessments determined that while the number is nowhere near the numbers in the samples from the spring before the major rain that caused the kill, they are five times higher than at the same time last year, indicating a rapid comeback. DNR officials seem optimistic, but have cautioned that a pre-kill population is still dependent on weather and other potential environmental factors. One of the major patterns the DNR has established over 36 years of sampling is that the health of brown trout populations is tied to spring rainfall amounts, with larger rain totals damaging the number of brown trout that survive. With the incidence of mega-rain events on the rise, there is reason for cautious optimism.
As an avid fly fisher, I am thrilled to hear that the trout population is on the rebound; I can even tell from the success I’ve had recently versus last year. But, if we know there is always the risk of another similar event, why isn’t the DNR doing more? The storm that caused the fish kill didn’t happen in the spring—it happened in July. Who’s looking more closely at what was in the local environment that was so deadly? How can we limit our vulnerability?
Clearly I still have my concerns because with the exception of the natural regeneration of the trout population and annual stocking from the fisheries, nothing has really changed as a result of this devastating event. From an environmental and ecological standpoint, it’s frustrating not to have an explanation and some action. From an economic standpoint, thousands of people each year buy an additional trout stamp with their Minnesota fishing licenses. The DNR’s own website says:
“Funds raised through the sale of trout and salmon stamps go into an account that can be used only for trout stream and lake habitat development, restoration, maintenance, identifying easements, or for rearing and stocking trout and salmon.”
I don’t like to think that I’m paying for fish that could die off en masse or riparian work that can be ripped out by one rain event.
As I said, I am thrilled that the evidence is showing a comeback in the south branch of the Whitewater, but without accountability or explanation for what happened in July of 2015, I will remain cautiously optimistic.