Monday, April 10, 2006

Gone Fishin

Excerpted from The Herald News, Apr. 9, 2006
By Gregory J. Rummo

If you drove by any of New Jersey's streams yesterday you may have
noticed gaggles of anglers congregating along the riverbanks. Trout
season opened on Saturday and, as always here in our state where the
fishing is mostly "put-and-take," everyone and his grandmother was
decked out in neoprene, standing elbow-to-elbow in the water, trying
to catch a trout by any of several methods including salmon eggs,
worms, spinners, baitfish and artificial flies.

In most years, Opening Day is more of a ritual than an opportunity to
actually enjoy fishing. It's usually still pretty chilly, fallingshortly after spring's arrival. But nonetheless, it offers anopportunity to get out of the house, where we've been held captive by the elements for the last four months and subjected to shorter hours of daylight.

By May, the crush has subsided. The weather has also warmed and the
trees are starting to leaf out and are filled with warblers, Baltimore
Orioles and other songbirds. It is during this period that the purists
emerge: Those anglers, who believe the best and the only method of
catching the trout is with the artificial fly.

Prior to the Civil War, the Catskills were covered with old-growth forests consisting predominately of hemlocks. These evergreens kept the mountains cool during the summer and their roots held the soil in place.

Vast stands of these majestic trees were clear cut and stripped of their bark. With the shade gone and nothing to
hold back the soil, the rivers of the Catskills warmed and became silted. The native brook trout, a species sensitive to changes in the environment, was driven to extinction in all but the tiniest brooks and creeks at the highest elevations. Populations have never fullyrecovered to this day.

Throughout the 20th century, fly fishing techniques were further
refined, giving rise to a new breed of angler-environmentalists. A
full creel of dead trout no longer was the measure of a successful day
spent on the stream. The focus shifted to learning about the trout's
habitat, the aquatic insects upon which they fed and developing an
acute sensitivity to any environmental threat that could affect
adversely the water quality of the rivers and streams in which the
trout lived. "Catch and release" was practiced on many streams,
ensuring that there would be enough trout for others to enjoy.

I'd like to believe that such a holistic approach to angling would be sufficient to kindle an environmental awareness of the importance of our water resources. We have had more than 100 years to learn from our mistakes when the hallowed streams fished by Gordon were almost destroyed by men bent on plundering the earth's natural resources.

The Pequannock River is a lovely trout stream flowing along the border
of Passaic and Morris Counties. In addition to receiving regular
stockings of rainbow and brook trout, the river nurtures a population
of wild brown trout. The lower portion is a miracle of sorts, tumbling
over algae-slicked rocks as it flows past dumpsters and strip malls
through the suburban hamlets of Bloomingdale, Butler and Riverdale.

But the bigger problem for the Pequannock and its population of wild brown trout is not cosmetic. There's a battle raging over the quality of the water itself.

Ross Kushner is the executive director of the Pequannock River coalition. During the past 10 years, his organization has become concerned about elevated water temperatures in the river which caused a substantial fish kill in 1994 and a less-severe kill in 2002. The organization initiated a temperature monitoring program in 1994 to determine the sources and extent of these problems. Based on the data, several portions of the Pequannock River and several Pequannock River
tributaries were listed as "impaired" for temperature in 2002 and 2004 by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Additional study by the NJDEP confirmed that lack of sufficient river flow resulting from insufficient water releases from Newark-owned reservoirs is the cause of almost 80 percent of the river's temperature problems.

In August 2004, the NJDEP issued new permit requirements for Newark in its diversion permit for the Pequannock River, including requirements for minimum river flows, both between the city's reservoirs and below their reservoir system that feeds the lower river.

During the summer of 2005, the Pequannock River virtually disappeared
in some places due to a complete lack of water releases from Newark-
owned reservoirs. "Zero flow rate[s] w[ere] seen on the lower
Pequannock without a declared drought," Kushner said. "Also,
temperatures recorded in the lower Pequannock last summer were higher
than any we have measured in the past, topping out at nearly 80

The native brook trout of the Catskills were almost driven to extinction during the 1800s by the tannin lords. Will the wild brown trout of the Pequannock suffer a similar fate at the hands of the water lords in Newark?

It's spring now. The weather is cool and there's plenty of water. But summer is coming. Kushner sounds a defiant note: "We insist that the time for action has come. I'm certain we will win in the end. The question is, will the DEP come through on their own, or do we need to haul them into court for failing to meet their obligations?"

Gregory J. Rummo is a businessman, author and syndicated columnist.
Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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