Vermont Fish Stocks Could Drop For Years Under Budget Plan

Feb 1, 2019

Vermont's angling community is fighting a proposal to close one of the Department of Fish & Wildlife's five fish hatcheries.

Closing the Salisbury Fish Culture Station was on the list of proposed cuts in Gov. Phil Scott’s budget address last month. Commissioner of Fish & Wildlife Louis Porter says loss of the facility would have a “significant” impact on the number of fish stocked by his department over the next several years.

But with costs are outpacing revenue at his department, Porter says he needed to find $250,000 in savings.

“We had a number of difficult options on the table to close our budget, and this is the best of those options,” Porter says.

Fishing industry experts like Bob Samson, president of the Lake Champlain Walleye Association, say the state will lose far more in economic activity than it will gain in savings.

"To be honest with you, I cannot believe Phil Scott going along with this. It's floored me." — Bob Samsom, Lake Champlain Walleye Association

“It’s bringing so much more to the economy,” Samsom says. “I can’t believe they’re going to target our hatcheries.”

If you fish in Vermont, there’s a good chance the last trout you caught began its life at one of the state’s five fish hatcheries. Especially in damaged waterways  that can no longer maintain their own fish populations, state-funded stocking operations are the chief source of catchable fish.

And Salisbury plays a central role in that effort. The Salisbury Fish Culture Station opened in 1931, and it’s where the Department of Fish & Wildlife raises its “brood stock.” Those brood stock, in turn, produce the eggs used to raise five different kinds of trout at other hatcheries around the state.

Close down the station with the brood stock, Samson says, and Vermont will severely reduce the number of adult fish available for stocking.

Reduce the number of stockable fish, he says, and more recreational anglers are going to come up empty.

“And people just won’t come here,” Samsom says. “I think of everything we’re doing to bring people here, and this is just a … kick in the butt, is what it is.”

"We had a number of difficult options on the table to close our budget, and this is the best of those options." — Commissioner of Fish & Wildlife Louis Porter

The Scott administration acknowledges the harm that closing the Salisbury facility will cause.

“We’re likely to see significant impacts to fish stocking for several years,” Porter says. “And it will long term still see a reduction in our stocking ability just because one of our hatcheries will be offline.”

Porter says that’s bad news for an outdoor recreation industry that generates in $2.5 billion annually, including $39 million from hatchery fish.

But Porter says it’s still the most responsible way to cut costs.

Colchester Rep. Pat Brennan isn’t so sure.

“My main concern is that if the fishermen aren’t happy and they’re not catching fish, then the license sales could diminish and we find ourselves in a bigger hole than we are now,” Brennan says.

Brennan says if it’s just a matter of coming up with $250,000 to save the hatchery, then he’d propose a modest increase in hunting and fishing license fees.

But it’s not just a matter of the $250,000. Salisbury will soon need a projected $13 million in upgrades to conform with clean water standards. Porter says that capital expense also figured into the decision to close the hatchery.

Brennan, however, says he’ll look for ways to avoid the closure.