Markowitz: Penny Wise and Pond Foolish?

Mar 12, 2019

To the great surprise of my family, about eight years ago I took up fly fishing. As the new Agency of Natural Resources Secretary, I thought first-hand experience hunting and fishing would let me better serve the Fish and Wildlife Department and its constituents. I quickly discovered how wonderful it is to stand in the middle of a river, listen to the running water, watch for the flash of fish, and cast a line in hopes of a catch. I was hooked!

For such a peaceful sport, fishing is fraught with politics, and I was not surprised by the uproar over Governor Scott’s proposal to balance the budget by closing the Salisbury fish hatchery. The closure wouldn’t end Vermont’s fish stocking program, but it would reduce fish production, particularly in the near term.

Vermont’s history of straightening, channelizing and damming up rivers, means that there’re many places where native species of fish are no longer found. Anglers are powerful advocates, and over the years, billions of dollars have been invested in research and programs designed to restock our rivers.

Since Vermont opened its first hatchery in 1891, Vermont’s managed its fish population. Over a million trout, walleye, and Atlantic Salmon are raised and released in Vermont every year, for people, like me, to catch. The state estimates that the hatchery program supports more than $32 million in economic activity.

But, not everyone agrees Vermont’s fish stocking policies make sense. Some environmentalists argue that our money would’ve been better spent restoring rivers to ecological health. They contend, rather than relying on a yearly release of hatchery-born fish, our goal should be rivers and lakes where native fish populations survive on their own. They also point out that older fish hatcheries, like the one in Salisbury, pollute nearby waterways because of the high phosphorus concentrations from the fish waste.

The legislature may respond to the concerned anglers by finding money to keep the Salisbury Hatchery open for another year, but with a $13 Million price tag looming for clean water upgrades, this issue will be back again before we know it.