Some fishermen are concerned about the state’s proposal to close the Salisbury Fish Hatchery

Some fishermen are concerned about the state’s proposal to close the Salisbury Fish Hatchery

White house with green roof and white sides.
The Salisbury Fish Farming Station raises trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, and steelhead trout, which are stocked in rivers and lakes around Vermont. Photo courtesy of Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife

To the dismay of some fishermen, state officials have proposed a plan to close the historic Vermont Fish Hatchery in Salisbury to cut costs within the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The hatchery, called the Salisbury Fish Farming Station, raises larger, older fish called ‘broodstock’. It sends trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and rainbow trout eggs to the state’s four other hatcheries, along with eggs from other state and federal hatcheries. In Vermont, state officials stock lakes and streams with trout for anglers.

The budget for the hatchery, which has been in operation since 1931, was not included in the governor’s budget proposal to lawmakers for fiscal year 2025. So lawmakers considering the budget are next in line to comment on the state’s proposal, which has not yet become final.

Closing the fishery would save the department hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, according to Chris Herrick, commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. He said operating and staffing costs for the hatchery are about $600,000 this year.

Fishermen who oppose the proposal worry that the closure will reduce their opportunities to practice the sport and make it difficult to catch fish to eat.

“The issues that arise from closing this hatchery are economic, cultural and social,” said Mike Coffey, a lobbyist for the Vermont Traditions Alliance, an organization that advocates for hunters, anglers and fishermen. “We will lose our trout stocking program essentially for two to seven years depending on the species.”

Fishing is an accessible and affordable form of recreation that can help increase food security for some Vermonters, Coffey said. He is also concerned that if fishermen continue to fish at current rates without stocking fish, this activity could harm local fish populations.

On Tuesday, a group of hunters and anglers gathered at the State House to ask lawmakers questions about the hatchery and S. 258, a bill that would make changes to the structure of the Fish and Wildlife Board.

“If there are changes that need to be made in the budget, charge us more money,” said Kevin Lawrence, a Newbury resident who traveled to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “Everyone standing there raised their hands when I asked them: ‘Are you going to spend an extra five dollars on a fishing license to keep this thing moving?’

In addition to the financial pressures the department faces, Herrick said the hatchery may not be eligible for a water quality permit in 2027 due to waste being discharged from the facility. Despite recent investments in tools to help improve water quality, the hatchery has recently had trouble meeting water quality standards, Herrick said.

If the hatchery closes, three of the facility’s four full-time employees will be moved to other positions within the department, according to Herrick. Herrick said the federal grant will cover staffing costs, and that federal funding is “only available if we start loading it up in August.”

The last employee will remain at the hatchery as administrator.

State officials don’t yet know how they will replace the Salisbury hatchery’s function, if it closes.

“Some real advantages to having our own broodstock are that we can manage the health of the fish well,” said Eric Palmer, director of the department’s fish division. “We can prevent diseases from entering the state. We can get the right number of fish to produce the right number of eggs. We can do some things at the hatchery to influence the timing of fish spawning.

The department is considering starting hatcheries at other hatcheries in the state, but such an endeavor could be complicated. The state chose Salisbury as the river station because of its access to groundwater that protects fish from disease.

“Many of our other facilities are not suitable for holding poultry,” Palmer said.

Alternatively, Vermont could keep fewer broodstock and also obtain eggs from other sources, such as purchasing them commercially, bringing them in from other government programs, or obtaining eggs from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “which would be much cheaper.” Who Palmer said: “We carry our own flock.”

Managing those choices can be difficult, Palmer said, “in terms of getting the right strain, the right number, the right timing, and obviously we want to make sure that anything we bring into the state is disease-free and tested very carefully.”

However, Palmer said, the department is looking into any available options to maintain current fish stocking practices with “as few changes as possible.”

Sean Robinson contributed reporting

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