How it Works: Trout Stocking on the Vineyard

How to stock an Island pond with mainland trout.

To get to the Vineyard, trout take the ferry, just like you. Not only that, while you’re on the Islander, sitting on your suitcase, the traveling trout are relaxing out on the freight deck in climate-controlled comfort.

A century and a half ago, trout were plentiful on the Island, but as dams were built, blocking streams and rivers, the trout were deprived of their natural migration routes. The spawning areas silted over and the water temperatures became too warm to sustain trout. So today, virtually all of the trout found on the Island begin their life at the fish hatchery in Sandwich.

Steve Hurley, southeast district fisheries manager of the state fisheries and wildlife department, says that trout are spawned in trays by hatchery personnel. When the fry reach the fingerling stage (about two to four inches), they are moved to circular fiberglass pools. At six to eight inches, they’re placed outside in a series of artificial concrete streams called raceways, where they are separated by species.

Brown trout and brook trout remain at the hatchery for about two years, until they’re around twelve inches long and half a pound; rainbow trout grow faster and are usually released when they are about one-and-a-half years old. Tiger trout, a hybrid species spawned by brown trout (female) and brook trout (male), can grow up to two pounds – about sixteen inches – in two years and are then released in small numbers in each of the ponds on the Island.

The trout are shipped to the Vineyard each year in late March and early April in trucks that can hold about 400 fish. The tanks of the trucks are aerated by gasoline-powered pumps that re-circulate the water and spray it into the air, providing oxygen for the fish.

Hurley says that his department has been stocking Mill Brook Pond in West Tisbury for over fifty years. Both Mill Brook Pond and Uncle Seth’s Pond, also in West Tisbury, receive mostly brook and rainbow trout. For years, the Island rod and gun club stocked Duarte’s Pond in West Tisbury for the annual kids’ trout derby; a few years ago, however, the state took over and stocks it primarily with brookies and rainbow trout.

The best trout habitat on the Island is Upper Lagoon Pond, but it wasn’t always so. Prior to Hurricane Bob in August 1991, sea water would creep over the causeway, making the pond brackish. After the storm, Oak Bluffs rebuilt the causeway, flushed out the salt water, and repaired the fish ladder. In summer the pond remains relatively cool – around 70 degrees Fahrenheit – which makes it an ideal habitat for brown, rainbow, and tiger trout. Unlike most of the trout in other Island ponds, which either die or are fished out every year, these trout, especially the browns, sometimes live and grow from year to year.

These hardy browns will also climb over the fish ladder into the Lagoon (they adapt to salt water) and occasionally travel out to Vineyard Haven harbor. But if they’re going much farther than that, chances are they’ll take the ferry. And travel in style, too.