Remember that sweet, sunny June morning when you took your children to the local kids’ fishing derby? You captured those big smiles on camera as your kids held up the very first trout of the day, maybe the first fish of their young lives, then looked on as they munched on hot dogs and drank too many sodas.
How about that day early last summer when you decided to take the family to the old trout pond and fished for some fresh trout?
Well, if Gov. Phil Scott’s budget gets passed as it is proposed, you can forget about any of that — at least for the next couple of years.
Under the current budget, the Salisbury Fish Culture Station, the state fish hatchery that gets the whole trout process going, will be closed down, putting an end to the stocking of all trout, at least for the next several years.
Louis Porter, the commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, said that his department was told by Scott to provide him with a balanced budget, something that was unattainable because, in Porter’s words, “without additional revenues, our costs are growing.” As a result, Porter had to slash $250,000 from his department’s budget.
So, closing the Salisbury Fish Culture Station became one of the proposed cuts in the budget. The only two places that Porter could cut were either the game warden force or the fish hatcheries. “I didn’t have a lot of options,” he said.
Porter said that, not only would there be a halt to trout-stocking in state waters over the next few years, it would also mean an end to Fish & Wildlife stocking the dozens of children’s fishing derbies, put on by fish and wildlife clubs and civic organizations, “at least for a couple of years.”
In 2018, Porter said, Fish & Wildlife stocked 16,582 brook trout and rainbow trout for children’s fishing derbies held around the state.
The impact on trout fishermen would be broad and hurtful. Meanwhile, the economic impact on trout fishing throughout the state will be felt by fishing tackle and bait shops, motels used by non-residents who come to Vermont to fish, and by restaurants.
In 2018, Fish & Wildlife stocked 1.4 million trout — that’s 198,000 pounds of fish — including those trout that went into Lake Champlain, Porter said.
There is another problem, one that could affect Fish & Wildlife funding, if the budget is approved. Joe Mark, a state spokesman for Trout Unlimited, said the proposal could backfire on the state, as it applies to the number of people who buy fishing licenses.
“This complicates things because we choose to fund our Fish & Wildlife Department substantially with license fees, and when people don’t catch fish, they don’t buy licenses,” Mark said. “In the end, this could create a much larger revenue problem for the state. They could lose millions in order to save $250,000. It’s penny-wise, pound-foolish.”
Mark is a member of the Southwestern Vermont Chapter board and a regional and state coordinator for Trout Unlimited. As the state coordinator for Trout in the Classroom, Mark is concerned that the work TU does in introducing young students into the life cycle of trout will be, at the very least, put on hold.
According to its website, “Trout in the Classroom is an environmental education program in which students raise brook trout from eggs before releasing them in state-approved streams.”
I tagged along with Mark on one of these expeditions a few years back — I believe it was in Dorset — and was amazed at the enthusiasm of young people, more than 50 in all, feet in the stream as they released tiny trout, turned over rocks to learn about trout habitat, water chemistry, threats to trout and much more. There was not one bored faced to be found that day. They were learning and loving it.
“This program is in a hundred schools across the state, from Newport to Pownal,” Mark said.
While it remains to be seen if the proposed budget will be passed, as written, there has already been some outcry over the plan to shut down the Salisbury Fish Culture Station, Porter said. “There is a significant concern among legislators about the impact of the closure of the hatchery,” he said.
Contact Dennis Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org