Georgia's plan to stock trout in the Savannah River is drawing criticism from the very people the program was designed to please: the fishermen.
"Everybody agreed this is just a setup, a sham, to try to kill the request for trout in this area from now on," said Perry Houck of the 40-member CSRA Flyfishing Association, an affiliate of Trout Unlimited.
Mr. Houck contends the Department of Natural Resources' plan to release 10,000 trout is destined for failure because the sensitive fish are being placed in areas of the river where they're least likely to survive.
But Russ England, DNR's assistant chief of fisheries management, said the placement of the fish in the portion of the river between Thurmond Dam and the Old Lock & Dam in Evans is designed to offer maximum survivability.
"Looking at summer and fall conditions, there's really no great place to put them in," he said. "Where the water temperature is best, the dissolved oxygen is lowest. And where `D-O' is best, temperatures are marginal."
Normally native to colder mountain waters, trout offer enhanced recreation opportunities. The stocking was proposed by U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, who contends cold water released from Thurmond Lake will support the fish.
But a yearlong feasibility performed at Dr. Norwood's request shows the waters to be marginal, with continuing problems with low dissolved oxygen levels and warm temperatures.
Mr. Houck said the trout stand a better chance of survival if the stocking - scheduled for March 7 - occurs below the Old Lock & Dam, where oxygen levels are higher due to the rapids and shoals.
"We are directly opposed to putting the fish in at all from Clarks Hill Dam to Stevens Creek Dam under present conditions," he said. "We think it would be a waste of taxpayers' money to watch those fish just die."
John Stone, Dr. Norwood's press secretary, also has concerns about stocking the fish above the Old Lock & Dam.
"People are generally expecting that the ideal place is the shoals directly below the diversion dam," he said. "That's the most oxygenated water, and if you're putting fish in in March, the temperature is ideal."
Regardless of where the fish are stocked, Mr. England said the program is simply an experiment to determine if Augusta can support a recreational trout fishery, which proponents perceive as a tourist draw.
"This is something that's purely experimental, not something we foresee as a long-range management plan," he said. "It's a decide-as-you-go situation. If we put them in there and get a good return, we'll probably stock more. But the biological data doesn't give us a clearcut picture: it just says `maybe."'
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