Maine Hatcheries – Time For Change

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A state Hatchery Commission, after meeting 15 times and spending $500,000 on engineering studies and plans, recommended in 2002 that Maine quadruple the pounds of fish grown in the hatcheries of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and stocked throughout the state.

The Commission, on which I served, found that “there is increasing evidence that the State’s recreational salmonid fisheries no longer meet the expectations of many anglers. In addition, other New England states and Canada are heavily competing for the attention of these anglers and may be drawing anglers away from the State.”

“Maine’s fish production facilities form the backbone of the sport fishing industry in Maine and if Maine hopes to successfully compete on a national and international level for angler dollars, these facilities must be upgraded and maintained to produce significantly more salmonid fish,” said the Commission.

“Fish production goals must be implemented as expeditiously as possible to address angler’s perception that Maine’s recreational salmonid fisheries are in decline,” concluded the Commission.

The Commission proposed that DIF&W increase salmonid production from 260,000 to 865,000 pounds per year, and that this increase “be completed within 10 years in order to expeditiously increase license sales and boost Maine’s sagging economy.”

The Commission spent a lot of time studying the failure of DIF&W’s hatcheries to meet state water discharge standards, and urged the state to identify cost reducing alternatives for effluent treatment.

The DEP, in meetings with the Commission, emphasized that the hatcheries must be brought into compliance with discharge standards.
David Littell, a DEP bureau director at that time (who later became DEP Commissioner and who now serves on the Public Utilities Commission), told Commission members that he was greatly embarrassed that the DEP had not compelled DIF&W to meet state and federal discharge standards.

What Happened?

In November of 2002, Maine voters approved a $7 million bond issue for DIF&W’s hatcheries. The money was used for renovations and enhanced wastewater treatment, modernizing the existing 8 facilities and increasing the numbers and pounds of fish produced. A lot of money was spent completely rebuilding the Emden hatchery.

In 2004, DIF&W issued a report stating that as a result of the renovations, “Estimates are that production will increase from 250,000 pounds of fish annually to 500,000 pounds of fish annually.”

That never happened. In 2009, the hatcheries produced 335,422 pounds of fish, almost 165,000 pounds less than the department’s 2004 prediction, and a half million pounds short of the ten-year goal established by the Hatchery Commission in 2002.

Nor did the enhanced wastewater treatment bring DIF&W into compliance with state and federal discharge laws.

In March of 2010, the DEP’s Board of Environmental Protection fined DIF&W $35,960 for a lengthy list of law violations including unlicensed discharge of pollutants to the waters of the State.

The fine was suspended pending completion of a detailed list of improvements that must be completed by December 1, 2010.

Kristina Paulhus In The Hatchery“All hatcheries across the state were given a discharge permit though DEP with certain requirements for testing and certain parameters that must be met,” reported Todd Langevin, DIF&W’s Hatcheries Superintendent. “If it is exceeded, it results in a violation. This is a way to sort of clean the slate with violations that have happened to this point.”

A time line for hatchery improvements was agreed upon by the two state agencies. The DEP’s Phil Garner recently informed me that DIF&W has met most of the deadlines, with a final one looming at the end of this year.

Todd Langevin, Superintendent of Hatcheries, told me that the cost to comply with the DEP consent agreement was $1.1 million, and the funds came from a 2008 bond issue approved by the voters. Another $900,000 of that bond money was spent on other water quality improvements, according to DIF&W Commissioner Dan Martin.

What Should Happen Now?

It’s time to revisit and fully implement the Hatchery Commission’s recommendations.

The Commission recommended that Maine consider broader based revenue sources to fund the needed improvements in facilities, raise new monies to fund higher operating and maintenance costs, and adjust the distribution of stocked fish “to better reflect the amount of appropriate coldwater habitat.”

The Commission found that “privatization of fish production could be an important component in meeting the Commission’s fish production goals, and recommended “that the Department seek contracts with private fish production facilities to supply egg, fry or fish needed to achieve the Commission’s fish production goals that cannot be produced by State-owned facilities.”

You can read the entire Hatchery Commission report and all recommendations at http://www.maine.gov/legis/opla/salrpt.PDF.

What Are We Stocking?

Here’s what DIF&W grew and stocked in 2009, compared to what the Hatchery Commission recommended be achieved by 2012.

Hatchery Production

2009

2009

Recommended

Species

Total Fish

Total Pounds

Total Pounds

Brook Trout

788,708

215,808

700,609

Brown Trout

182,219

68,197

77,622

Landlocked Salmon

96,181

18,705

16,457

Lake Trout

9,293

6,325

4,664

Lake Whitefish

27,500

260

---

Splake

30,964

12,692

5,600

Rainbow Trout

23,149

13,432

---

Totals

1,158,035

335,422

865077

MAT Recommendations

An outside professional assessment of DIF&W’s Fisheries Division was conducted in 2002, after the legislature authorized the study be enacting legislation submitted by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. SAM helped DIF&W raise the money to fund the study.

The Management Assistance Team of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies conducted the study. Most of MAT’s recommendations were never implemented, mostly due to lack of funding.

It is time to revisit the MAT recommendations and implement those that still make sense.

For example, the report noted that, “the need is greatest for fisheries staff in the regions to work on stream and river fisheries, habitat protection, as well as exotic species introductions. Much of the work done currently is on population surveys in lakes, etc., and many biologists lamented that not enough time was available to do the long-term work on habitat assessment and improvement that is crucial to maintaining a viable fisheries resource.”

The MAT also reported that illegal introductions of exotic aquatic species, “is a major concern because of the major biological implications and often irreversible damage to natural ecosystems… This is a much more critical ecological issue than such things as catching an over limit of fish or poaching deer.”

The “Five Critical Imperatives,” offered by the MAT included creating more effective guiding principles such as customer service and public involvement, instituting the means of insuring greater accountability for the execution of directives at the administrative levels and tracking performance in the field, and garnering the support necessary to expand funding to address unmet resource needs.

All of these are still valid and absolutely essential. You can read them at http://www.maine.gov/legis/opla/salrpt.PDF

My Recommendations

1) Shut down or sell at least half of DIFW’s hatcheries.

Maine taxpayers have now spent $9 million, from two bonds, to bring aging hatcheries into compliance with discharge laws and expand production at some of those facilities. Taxpayers also have to pay the interest on those bonds. It makes no sense to continue to spend money on hatcheries that are old and located in the wrong places to easily treat their waste.

2) Produce only brook trout and landlocked salmon in the state hatcheries.

This is what they do best. And brook trout are the fish we need more of (a lot more!).

3) Purchase all other fish from the private aquaculture industry.

We can do it cheaper, and to the highest standards.

4) Raise funds from a government facilities bond to increase the production of trout and salmon to achieve the Commission’s goals.

This would be the quickest way to increase the numbers and pounds of fish stocked in Maine waters. We could also use any proceeds from the sale of some of our hatcheries.

5) Bring DIF&W’s remaining hatcheries into full compliance with federal and state discharge laws and rules.

Hopefully that will be accomplished by the end of the year, but at great cost.

6) Implement the recommendations of the MAT report. You can read them at http://www.maine.gov/legis/opla/salrpt.PDF.

7) Change fishing licenses to reflect consumptive uses, real costs, and the real interests of anglers, so that those who keep and consume fish pay more than those who don’t, and the money that anglers pay is directed to the fish species they seek.

8) Focus most of the Fisheries Division’s budget and work to habitat protection and enhancement, rather than to hatcheries and fish stocking.

We spend a higher percentage of our fisheries budget on hatcheries than most other states. We can’t compete with the states that stock tens of millions of fish, nor should we try. We can create world-class self-sustaining fisheries with the right management.

Addendum

It must be said that DIF&W’s hatcheries produce beautiful brook trout and landlocked salmon. They’ve had a long-standing problem with the genetics of some of the species they produce, especially brown trout, and are still struggling to resolve those problems. The strain of rainbow trout they are producing appear to be short-lived, raising doubts inside and outside DIF&W as to the value of continuing with this particular strain of rainbow.

Perhaps before Maine proceeds any further with rainbow trout, DIF&W’s leaders and staff should read Anders Halverson’s groundbreaking book, An Entirely Synthetic Fish. You should read it too. You can read about it in my book review elsewhere on this website.

To Do For You

1) Read An Entirely Synthetic Fish (read my book review first!).

2) Read the Hatchery Commission’s Report and Recommendations at http://www.maine.gov/legis/opla/salrpt.PDF.

3) Make sure your State Representative and Senator know of your interest in hatcheries and other fisheries issues, and ask them to alert you to any bills on these topics.

4) If you support my recommendations, make sure they know that!

5) When fisheries bills are active at the legislature, make your voice heard!

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