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Whitewater groups are suing to stop fish stocking in the Chattooga River. Blocked in their attempts to pressure the U.S. Forest Service into allowing unrestricted white water boating in the Chattooga headwaters, these groups are attacking the management program and specifically the fish stocking program established by the Forest Service and the three state DNR agencies managing the Chattooga.
They are suing the Forest Service, based upon categorization of rainbow and brown trout as "exotics," which according to certain groups, makes them an undesirable component of the Chattooga aquatic ecosystem though they have been present and for the most part dominant there for 80 to 100 years. Their claim is that since neither species was originally native to the stream, they should not be stocked.
Furthermore, they claim that the stocked fish are doing irreparable damage to native aquatic species such as salamanders, fish and insects. They have no data to support such a claim. To tell the truth, the groups aren’t really concerned that rainbow and brown are "exotics" and don’t belong in the river. To them, it’s just a "means to an end" in gaining unfettered boating access to the river by suing to destroy the main attraction for sportsmen. Their logic appears to be that if you remove the trout, you’ll remove the angling constituency and open the water to boaters.
The Chattooga River was designated as a wild and scenic river during the 1970s. At the time, the states carried on a significant stocking program, even in lower reaches of the river. As boating increased in these areas, controversy between fishermen and boaters also increased.
The Forest Service, as a means of solving the problem, decided it would be best to allocate use on the river. They specified boating use be restricted to areas of the river below the Ga. 28 bridge. Areas above it would be managed primarily for fisheries, hiking, camping and other nonboating use.
The Chattooga Coalition, consisting of DNR, U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited organizations in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, was established in 1986 and still active in management of the river. The primary purpose of this group was, and still is, to develop and improve the sport fishery and to maintain or improve the overall health of the Chattooga River aquatic ecosystem.
During the past 23 years, this group has spent a great deal of effort gathering information necessary to best manage the river. With this information, management can be tailored to each individual section’s characteristics.
If the boating groups are successful in their attempt to halt fish stocking in the Chattooga, it will end of one of the most intensive and successful fishery management programs. It would also have implications for fish management programs throughout the Southern Appalachians.
Is it worth losing an outstanding fishery to ensure boaters total access to the only section of one river in which their use is restricted?
If you would like to express your opinion to the Forest Service, contact information is available at its Web site, www.fs.fed.us\r8\fms.
Monte E. Seehorn