Lawmakers offer lifeline to fish hatchery
SALISBURY — Budget builders in the Vermont House have agreed to a funding plan that would grant the Salisbury Fish Culture Station a reprieve until at least 2022. The plan also includes money to study and possibly improve the hatchery’s water discharge system, which could further extend the life of a facility that needs to comply with new federal environmental standards in order to continue operations.
The funding plan, as endorsed by the House Appropriations and Ways & Means committees, is in part contingent on a $2 increase in both the state’s hunting and fishing license fees, as well as a $5 bump in the combo license, according to Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter.
The full House approved the hatchery funding proposal on Thursday as part of a $6.1 billion fiscal year 2020 state budget.
As recently reported by the Independent, Gov. Phil Scott’s proposed fiscal year 2020 state spending plan calls for closing the Salisbury hatchery at 646 Lake Dunmore Road as a way of cutting in half an estimated $500,000 shortfall in the Fish & Wildlife operating budget.
The Salisbury hatchery is also on the chopping block because it would need an estimated $12 million in upgrades to make it compliant with upcoming new federal water quality rules. Scott’s budget calls for decommissioning the Salisbury facility and instead investing in around $6 million to modernize the Roxbury hatchery to assume a broader role in breeding and stocking the state’s waterways with prized rainbow, lake, brown and brook trout.
News of the potential closure of Addison County’s hatchery has prompted vocal opposition from fishing enthusiasts, environmentalists and several Vermont lawmakers. The Salisbury facility employs four full-time workers, is the top tourist draw of all the state’s hatcheries, and plays a key role in Vermont’s successful trout breeding program that attracts anglers who in turn fuel the state economy.
Here are the three components of the proposed Salisbury hatchery bailout plan:
•The aforementioned hunting and fishing license fee hikes, which would net an estimated $140,000 to $150,000, according to Porter.
A Vermont resident now pays $26 for an annual fishing or hunting license, and $42 for a hunting/fishing combination license.
Non-residents pay $52 for an annual fishing license, $100 for an annual hunting license, and $138 for a combination license, according to the fee schedule posted on the Fish & Wildlife website.
•An additional $150,000 in fiscal year 2020 general fund support for the Salisbury hatchery.
Together, the $140,000 from fee hikes and the separate $150,000 appropriation would “enable us to continue operating (the Salisbury facility) during the next few years,” Porter said, noting an anticipated deadline of 2022 for compliance with the new federal water standards.
•A special appropriation of $280,000, within the state’s capital bill, to address the Salisbury hatchery’s water discharge issue or begin exporting its broodstock functions to one or more of the state’s other hatcheries in Roxbury, Bennington, Grand Isle and Newark.
Porter and his colleagues are hoping federal authorities might accept something less than a $12 million fix to make the Salisbury facility compliant with the new discharge rules.
“Basically, the situation we have now is the ability to continue operating the hatchery in the short-term through this funding, and the chance to look at a wide variety of potential ways of fixing the discharge issue, or at least begin to prepare broodstock at other facilities so they could take over if Salisbury were to close,” Porter said.
He stressed the state Senate and Gov. Scott will still have to sign off on the hatchery rescue plan before it can be taken to the bank. But Porter is hopeful.
“I’ve learned enough to know not to try to commit people to things ahead of time,” he said with a chuckle. “We’ve begun the same discussion with the Senate side to make the case to them. If they’re interested in keeping the hatchery open, we’ll make the case to do that.
“I will say I haven’t had a single legislator come up to me and say they support closing the hatchery,” he added. “There’s certainly a will on both sides of the Legislature for finding a solution.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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