Collaborating with Stakeholders to Revise a Statewide Trout Management Plan in North Carolina

Diverse groups of anglers fish the variety of trout waters managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), and in 2008 these trout anglers contributed approximately US$174 million to North Carolina's economy. Given the importance of these coldwater resources and their popularity with anglers, the NCWRC initiated a management planning process in 2010 that relied upon collaboration with trout anglers and resource management partners to revise its original Trout Management Plan adopted in 1989. Input meetings were held with staff representing multiple NCWRC divisions and other state, federal, and non-governmental resource management partners to review coldwater management topics. Five focus groups were held May-June 2010 prior to the revision of the Trout Management Plan to identify and discuss key issues and concerns related to North Carolina trout management and obtain detailed information about trout angler opinions. The themes that emerged from the focus groups included the importance of maintaining diverse trout fishing opportunities, the need to clarify existing regulations, the importance of easily accessible trout fishing information, the need to seek opportunities to secure and improve angler access, and the importance of regulations enforcement. Focus-group participants represented trout anglers affiliated with organized angling groups, anglers unaffiliated with organized angling groups, and trout angling guides. Following the focus groups, the NCWRC convened an advisory committee to provide input throughout the development of the document to minimize conflict after its completion. Through this collaborative revision process the NCWRC was able to obtain a suite of qualitative data that provided detailed information early and often throughout the revision process that would not have been captured otherwise. As a result, these data were integrated successfully with existing scientific survey data (biological and socioeconomic) to craft five critical program areas (trout management, resource protection and habitat enhancement, research, angler access, and education and communications) and specific goals for each within the new NCWRC Trout Management Plan. Similar processes to engage stakeholders early in the planning process should be considered by fisheries managers to provide transparency to the management planning process, ensure that stakeholder views are represented, and foster a sense of ownership of the resource.

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