Photo: Webmaster on a WTS in the Sierra Nevadas (photo by his Son)
Even though this website has been around since 2006, some of you visiting for the first time may be uncomfortable with the depth and variety of information we present here. Some of you might be thinking, “Shouldn’t this information be kept secret?” It’s an understandable reaction. For many of us, who grew up in a mass-media era, we think of exposure as something that will generate hordes of people descending on a few places. In other words, we worry about exposure ruining the very resources we want to preserve.
For what it’s worth, I believe the consensus of most professionals in the fish conservation field is that, on balance, more information is better than less.
However, you may not agree. You might agree with, “Uplander”, a senior member of the BerkshireFlyFishing.org forum, who left a message there, and copied it into the guest book of wildtroutstreams.com shortly after we started the website in March or April of 2006. As background, I should explain that at the time, I was an intermittent contributor to this forum (now defunct) and “Uplander” was a very frequent contributor. In one of his more memorable posts, he’d written that in 30 years of fishing Berkshire wild brookie streams, he’d run into a total of only 5 or 6 other fishermen over that entire timespan.
Uplander’s original message was this:
You are appallingly wrong in unilaterally deciding for all of us that these steams need more fishing pressure and that exposure is somehow “good for the resource.” You are being terribly unethical in disclosing such information on the Internet, and terribly naive in your belief that doing so will be beneficial to the trout or the anglers who pursue them. You may, single-handedly, be the direct cause of the demise of numerous fragile wild trout streams. Bravo.
In a later comment in the thread, Uplander complained that the “color coded” maps (apparently the “town series” of stream maps I created for western Massachusetts) were, on the one hand, reprehensible, and on the other, contained many errors.
My response, which I posted on the Berkshire forum is here. I think it remains a useful synthesis of my beliefs on these issues:
Uplander, do you really believe that my little website has as much power as you credit? Do you imagine hordes of fishermen descending on your favorite streams after reading the stream maps?
The stream maps are comprehensive in nature and provide hundreds of streams to choose from. The impact on any single stream should be slight. If, as you point out, some are erroneously coded that’s OK. I’ve never claimed omniscience, I’m merely creating maps from data which the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] makes available, [converting their data into..] a form useful to fishermen. If some [maps] are wrong, that’s part of the game, which is to encourage exploration. It’s a pretty good starting point, but the ending point is being out in the wilderness fishing a stream. Apparently, you feel the results aren’t completely whacky, or there’d be no point in getting so upset about them.
There are no reviews on my site, and no directions to specific access points. The goal is to encourage people to get out and explore, broadly. I think that’s a good thing.
How many people are actually fishing these resources? If the number went up by 5 or 10% (which would be an enormous impact, far in excess of what this site could accomplish), would you notice? You started a thread on this forum where you said you’ve seen only 5 or 6 other fishermen on a Berkshire stream in 30 years! If you saw one every 2 years (mind you, a 3-fold increase), would it be so bad? Yet it could have a huge impact on saving these resources…
In the process of researching this site, I’ve come into contact with a number of fisheries biologists whose job it is to protect these resources. So far, all have been supportive. I’ll quote from an email one of them sent me recently:
“Nice job on your website. I don’t believe that wild trout streams should be kept a secret – fishermen can be some of the best advocates for protecting these resources. On the flip side, it does not take a whole lot of harvest to impact a small population in a headwater stream – so it becomes something of a balancing act.”
Let’s talk about “harvest”, which is clearly part of what may be upsetting you.
A tiny headwater stream with small population (and typically small fish) isn’t likely to experience much “harvest” from the readers of this site. In the first place, I would venture most readers will be practicing catch and release. [In addition, it’s hard to get to headwater streams, and there are a lot of them, so the impact on any one should be slight].
But let’s say I’m wrong. Suppose a few fishermen read about a stream on the website, and descend on it to kill a lot of fish – presumably this is the scenario you fear the most, judging from your comments.
As bad as that would be, it’s not the worst that could happen to the stream, and it’s a problem that will self-correct. The next few times these rapacious wild trout fishermen descended on the stream, they would have a bad experience. What’s worse to a meat fisherman than getting skunked? They’ll stop going. But the point is, as long as the watershed remains healthy, the remaining fish will repopulate it in a season or two. [Mind you, this is the worse case. I believe that the overwhelming majority of folks who will use the site will respect the resources and treat them gently].
The worst enemies of these streams are the ones that distroy them forever. These aren’t other fishermen: they’re uncontrolled development, and climate change. Addressing these issues requires political clout, and passionate advocates. No one better than someone who fishes the resource. The combined impact of development and climate change on small stream resources is orders of magnitude greater than all of the readers of fishing websites put together, even if all of us decided to fry up everything we catch (which of course we don’t)!
At a time when streams need more friends there are fewer of us. The number of people purchasing resident fishing licenses in NJ and MA is down roughly 50% in the last decade. PA over 40%. Virtually every state in the union has seen a signficant decline in the popularity of fishing. I’d be happy if my website helped a little to slow the rate of decline. With so much conservation work depending on license revenues, it’s the least we can do.
As to my “ethics” for making this information available over the Internet, all of it is already available over the Internet: I’ve simply repackaged it in ways that are useful to fishermen and made it easier to find. These are public data which are freely downloadable. I’ve observed the license agreements, respected copyright laws, and credited the sources as required. The whole point of this website is to make it a little easier for folks to use the information that is available, especially younger and newer participants in the sport, on whom the ultimate survival of these resources depends.
Bottom line: I’ve thought about it very carefully, and continue to believe it’s in the best interest of the resources. I’m sorry you don’t agree.