Darren Marcy: Shuttering fish hatchery should be delayed
Anybody who doubts Gov. Phil Scott's ability to get different sides of the political spectrum to work together just has to look at his administration's plans to close the Salisbury fish hatchery.
Since it was first announced, there's been a nearly unanimous outcry against the idea, regardless of political party or ideology.
The concern is that the hatchery is where nearly all of the state's stocked trout come from. It's the home of the broodstock that produces the eggs that become tens of thousands of stocked trout every year.
The broodstock cannot be moved, so shutting it down would mean as many as five years without having stocked trout in Vermont.
I've only read about one group in support of the plan to shut down the hatchery, and that was a native fish advocacy group that is opposed to almost all stocking and believes the state's funds and efforts should go toward improving habitat and recovering native brook trout.
But stocking in Vermont's waters is more about opportunity than conservation efforts.
Some mistakenly believe that fish are stocked to keep trout from becoming endangered, or that if trout weren't stocked it would create some sort of ecological disaster.
No, trout are put in the lakes and river in this state for sport. So that anglers can go out and enjoy a relaxing, healthy activity and connect with the land while having a chance of bringing home a healthy dinner.
Some choose to practice catch-and-release and allow the fish to swim again for someone else to have a chance to catch.
Others fill the frying pan.
As long as it's legal and ethical, I'm all for whatever floats your boat.
Southwestern Vermont offers some incredible angling opportunities for trout.
Just ask Rep. Chris Bates, the "Fishin' Politician." Bates is constantly plying the waters around Bennington and posts plenty of photos and videos of his trout exploits.
Bennington county waters received close to 15,000 trout in 2018. Most of those trout went into the Walloomsac River and Lake Paran, as well as an assortment of other brooks, rivers and ponds.
One noticeable exception is the Battenkill. The river is managed under special regulations and is not stocked, as the department has chosen to manage the fishery for brown trout and focuses on habitat work rather than stocking.
Vermont is lucky to have streams from north to south with the beautiful little brook trout swimming in its waters. There are very few fish that rival the brookie for beauty and it deserves to be honored for its ability to survive extreme conditions.
And anybody who has drifted a fly or a worm through a pocket of water in the tiniest of mountain streams and pulled out a 4-inch brook trout can say they have caught a trophy.
But stocked trout serve a purpose.
Those 9-inch rainbows (as well as the occasional 2-year-old 15-inch trout) provide a lot of sport for a lot of anglers who dutifully buy their fishing license every year.
It's a family-friendly activity that builds bonds and creates memories. Those are memories that will dry up if there are no trout stocked for up to five years if the state shuts down the Salisbury hatchery as has been detailed. The numbers also don't add up. The state spends about $3 million on its fishing stocking efforts while those fish result in about $30 million in revenue for the state. But this extends even further.
A couple of weeks ago we ran a story about fifth-graders at Maple Street School raising brook trout for their Trout in the Classroom project.
The six-month lesson will have the kids learning a lot of science while researching and writing about the trout and their habitat. Once those trout are ready to be released, the kids will also get a lesson about letting go.
They'll remember those fish for the rest of their lives and they're more likely to grow up to care about trout and where they live, thus becoming protectors of the ecosystem.
But those trout eggs came from the Salisbury fish hatchery, as did the eggs for the other 96 schools in the program this year.
Of those, 28 schools right here in this part of Vermont are currently watching their eggs hatch and seeing young trout go through the development stages.
The Trout in the Classroom program got its start right here in this part of the state.
The Vermont Council of Trout Unlimited has written a letter suggesting the state find alternate sources of funding to keep the hatchery open for a few years to ease the transition on the stocking program and keep the eggs flowing to the Trout in the Classroom program.
"An important part of the program is the egg source, which currently is provided solely by the Salisbury hatchery," Trout Unlimited writes in its letter. "If the hatchery closes, it is questionable whether other egg sources would be available to compensate for the loss of the Salisbury egg production. An abrupt closure of Salisbury would likely result in the suspension of TIC in schools that may never recover, even when eggs became available from another Vermont hatchery."
That loss is too great to risk.
Darren Marcy is the editor of the Manchester Journal. He can be reached by email at dmarcy
by cell at 802-681-6534.
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