NATURE NOTE – Number 88                                                      March 14, 2024


There are many topics we could cover in NATURE NOTES and we have covered over 87 different topics since July 2020, but we have not spent much time talking about fish.  Nature NOTE # 66 discussed trout, but that’s about it.  In NATURE NOTE # 8 we discussed Wildlife Management, which overlaps to some extent with…

Our Current Topic:  Fish Management

In Virginia, fresh-water fish management comes under the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), and involves over 225 species of freshwater fishes in the state, falling into 25 families.  About half of the species are perch, minnows or carp.   Fish management doesn’t really involve “managing” fish, but managing the habitant of fish, and the policies that govern human actions that impact fish.  It began in 1879 when the state set up the Wytheville hatchery to restore depleted fish populations in Southwestern Virginia.  Before management can begin, lots of data and knowledge has to be gathered in order to have a solid basis for decision making about the habitant and regulations.  This involves research by fish biologists (called Ichthyologists) to gather such things as population by species, location, population movements, reproduction habits by species, spawning locations and times, diet by seasons, feeding habits, predators, growth, population health, mortality, water temperatures, pollutants, sedimentation levels, etc.  This information is gathered using various sampling, surveys, electrofishing, and other sources.  Sometimes tags placed on fish can also provide information. These tags along with other angler surveys are collected and returned to DWR when the fish are caught.  This collection needs to be done regularly, frequently, and in different seasons. Based on all of this data, mathematical models can be used to predict future trends and decisions can start to be made about how many fish can be caught, when, where, what size, and what habitant improvements are needed, and what fish may need more attention.

As an example:  Sometimes you hear about the discovery of a fish kill along a waterway in which large numbers of fish are suddenly killed.  Scientist need to investigate to determine the reason for the kill and what can be done to prevent similar situations.  At times the cause is some human-caused pollution such as a chemical spill, or it may be a sudden drop in oxygen levels, or a disease that attacks the fish. Often these situations clear up on its own, but at times action has to be taken to stop the flow of a pollutant, or to treat the water.  A major way some of these problems can be stopped is enforcing laws and regulations that deal with discharging water into a stream.  Another way involves maintaining a good, healthy border of trees along the stream that can absorb or filter or prevent many pollutants from reaching the stream.  This tree lined zone is called a riparian zone.  All of this falls into the area of fish management.  

Currently there are about 20 species of fish that are considered endangered or threatened in the state.  Recovery efforts involve a number of actions, but again, it is necessary to do research and data collection as discussed above.  Sometimes this research concludes that a species has recovered enough to be removed from the endangered or threatened list.  Keep in mind that a species can be endangered or threatened in one state, but not in another.  

An interesting side to Virginia’s species is the difference in diversity among the states 5 physiography regions.  (See NATUE NOTE # 53).  The two regions with the most fish diversity are the Valley and Ridge province and the Piedmont province; both represented in our council footprint.  This is based on several factors including the diversity of habitat, water temperatures, and elevation changes.  

Most of those involved in fish management are employees of state or federal government agencies, or universities that do research and teaching of students going into fish and wildlife management careers.  Some private laboratories and hatcheries also employ fish biologists or managers for research and to raise fish for non-government recreation facilities, aquariums, and food producing facilities.  Most of the freshwater fish we eat are farm raised, and someone has to hatch and care for these fish just like they do for beef or poultry.  Sports fishermen generate over $1 billion annually in Virginia, so we are talking about a significant economic impact in the state based on recreational fishing. And as a side note, a portion of the federal tax collected on the sale of fishing gear is returned annually to the states for management of their fisheries programs.


So fish management is more than knowing how to hold your rod and ordering off the seafood menu.  There is a whole world out there involving nature and recreation.  The best way to expose your scouts to fish is to go fishing.  Probably some instruction would be wise prior to reaching the riverbank, but it probably would not be hard to find a fisherman to do this.  Used equipment is often available from attics, garages or yard sales.  A call to your local Conservation Police (the law enforcement arm of the state Department of Wildlife Resources, formerly called Game Wardens) would probably provide some ideas and information as well.  Maybe invite him or her along to help with the experience.  Also, consider a visit to one of the local hatcheries in our area.  They are located in Bath, Craig, Nelson, Smyth and Wythe Counties.  Contacts for both of these DWR resources, and many others, can be found at their web site at  Another excellent reference is Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Virginia, by Burgos, Hilling, Kells, and others, from Johns Hopkins Press.  

Now with a little background on fish management, get your scouts talking about fishing.  There is Fishing Merit Badge, as well as some other related opportunities to have fun (such as the annual council Trout-O-Ree) and advance in scouting at the same time.  All nature related.  Check it out, and good luck.

Let me know how it goes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Thanks for reading NATURE NOTES.  More in two weeks.

Bob Garst