Editorial: Closing hatchery is worse than just lousy math, it’s poor policy
The Scott Administration blew the call when they proposed closing the Salisbury Fish Hatchery, and anglers and hunters throughout the state should protest for as long as it takes the Scott administration to come to its senses.
It’s a bad call in numerous ways, but in a nutshell we have an administration which has been championing economic development by boosting the state’s outdoor recreation opportunities only to turn around and propose cutting one of the few sports that every Vermonter or visitor, of any economic means, can enjoy. Skiing, biking, sailing, kayaking and other sports that require expensive gear or daily fees are not available to everyone, but fishing for trout in a mountain stream is something every family can enjoy and spread the love of Vermont’s natural environment to the next generation.
More to the point, to put this hatchery on the chopping block is a blow to Vermont’s fishing and hunting heritage, but it’s also lousy math.
• The total savings by decommissioning the Salisbury Fish Culture Station (hatchery) is expected to be roughly $250,000 annually, but that doesn’t count lost revenue from the state’s fish stocking operations. Those operations generate $31.6 million annually from tourist and domestic recreation, but because the other four hatcheries are already running near capacity, they won’t be able to fully replace the fish currently being stocked. In fact, there would be 25 percent fewer fish stocked annually if the Salisbury facility is closed.
It’s impossible to precisely project how much less revenue would be generated by reducing the stocking program 25 percent, but let’s agree that it’s more than 1 percent, and 1 percent of $31.6 million is already a reduction of $316,000 annually in economic activity. If it’s 10 percent, that’s $3,160,000 less annually. That also has a multiplier effect that ripples through the economy. In other words, shuttering the hatchery could cost the state more in lost revenue than it gains in operational savings.
One caveat is that the Salisbury hatchery does not currently pass federal water quality standards by virtue of a change in where the effluent point of compliance is measured. Currently the effluent, which contains phosphorus, is measured immediately outside the hatchery. A decade ago, the Vt. Department of Environmental Conservation (part of the Agency of Natural Resources) measured the effluent at the point before it entered Halmon Brook, a half mile downstream, and the hatchery was easily in compliance. Since then the DEC changed the rules. It turns out, however, the Salisbury hatchery is the only one at which the effluent is measured immediately outside the facility, while the others are measured after the effluent is diluted into nearby streams. The cost to bring the Salisbury hatchery into compliance is estimated at $12 million, but two options are obvious: the DEC or ANR could reassess its effluent point of compliance and revert to its historic point (as it was a decade ago), or the state could spend the $12 million as a capital improvement to the hatchery (financed over many years and therefore not present a budgetary concern.)
But let’s be real: Should the ANR be a stickler over this tiny bit of effluent from a single hatchery when it consistently turns a blind eye to the millions of gallons of wastewater dumped into Lake Champlain annually by sewage treatment plants throughout the Champlain basin? That is absurd. With the stroke of a pen, this could be reverted to its historic monitoring point, thus eliminating this self-imposed $12 million threat.
• Furthermore, the Salisbury hatchery, which is on the National Historic Register, attracts more tourists than any of the other four hatcheries in the state. Currently more than 6,000 visitors a year tour the facility with almost no active promotion. If the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, or the state, spent a little effort to market it, no doubt the hatchery could become an even greater tourist attraction for the area. As a business community, we have been remiss not to have capitalized on this opportunity sooner.
• It’s also important to know that the Salisbury hatchery is the state’s only broodstock station, mating male and female fish that in turn hatch about 5 million trout eggs each year for the other hatcheries. If the Salisbury facility were shut down, the state would have to postpone stocking fish statewide until new broodstock could grow to the point that they reach sexual maturity and produce eggs. That is hugely disruptive and translates into the following impact, as noted by the Addison County Wildlife Conservation Group:
– Brook trout – no catchable sized trout stocking for 2022 and 2023.
– Brown and rainbow trout – no catchable trout stocking for 2022–2024.
– Steelhead – no yearling steelhead stockings for 2022-2025.
– Lake trout – no yearling lake trout stockings for 2022–2027.
– Brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, and steelhead – most likely purchased from a private corporation; however eggs would not be of the right genetic strain and would have the potential to significantly impact the wild trout population in Vermont.
• This is getting into the weeds, but (besides the loss of revenue from anglers) not stocking lake trout in Lake Champlain for six years would not only set back the state’s efforts to rebuild that population, but because lake trout are one of the larger predators in the lake, according to state fishery biologist Adam Miller (who oversees the state fish hatcheries), it risks upsetting other fish populations and changing the lake’s ecology.
Miller, who provided the preliminary financial analysis for closing the Salisbury hatchery at the request of the administration, agreed that the economics of closing the hatchery will require factoring in the loss of income and the negative impact on the state fishery, as well as a loss of the quality of life for Vermonters. Miller pointed out that Vermonters are second only to Alaska in their participation rates in hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife watching. (Memo to Gov. Scott: For a state eager to keep young families and attract new residents, cutting a key recreational resource defies common sense.)
The merits of reversing the call for closure of the Salisbury hatchery stand on their own, but one other remedy is being discussed: hiking the fees for fishing and hunting licenses to match the $250,000 the administration wants to save. That could be accomplished by upping the fees $2-$5 on fishing and hunting licenses (for example, from $26 to $28 for state residents.)
Be that as it may, the Legislature will spend the rest of the session debating aspects of the budget before it is approved and sent to the governor in May. The process now is for concerned residents to take action by appealing to their local legislators through phone calls or email, as well as calling the appropriate state agency or department, or the governor’s office directly. For the state offices, call Gov. Phil Scott at 802-828-3333; Commissioner of Vt. Fish & Wildlife Louis Porter, 802-828-1454; Secretary Julia Moore, Agency of Natural Resources (to change the point of effluent compliance to its historic point), 802-828-1294; Addison County senators: Chris Bray, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Ruth Hardy, email@example.com, and your state representative.
Don’t delay, your call can help change the outcome.
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