Op-ed: Sen. Nitka on supporting fishing in Vermont

By Sen. Alice Nitka

It’s that time of year when I start looking for the hatchery stocking truck delivering fish to the Black River along Route 131 in Cavendish and Weathersfield.

It’s great to see the volunteers helping put the fish into the river and then all the people fishing there over the next couple of months. Some are dressed in expensive fishing finery, others in their sausage waders, some with holes in them, while still others are on the banks in their jeans. They all seem to be enjoying themselves whether they catch fish or not.

Oops!  I’m about a month too early on the stocking truck as I see on the website that the Black River will be stocked starting on May 6 with rainbow and brown trout. However, opening day starts on Saturday, April 13 so hopefully the fish that are there will have awakened.

This week, I had the opportunity to meet with Louis Porter, the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, to talk about the department’s budget and related issues. The department was created to regulate hunting and fishing as the state was recovering from widespread deforestation. Its mission today is broader, but it is still committed to the conservation of all the state’s fish and wildlife species and their habitats.

With regard to fishing, F&W operates five fish hatcheries, maintains more than 190 fishing access areas, controls the spread of fish diseases and invasive fish and is working to restore the populations of muskie, lake sturgeon and salmon. It has started rebuilding the Roxbury Fish Culture Station which was damaged in Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Once finished, there will be higher costs for electricity due to a new pump system rather than the old gravity fed water system. This will be done to meet state permitting requirements. They will have their usual costs for fish food and oxygen.

The Salisbury Hatchery which is the state’s only broodstock station was on the chopping block to close to save money in the department’s budget. If it closed it would likely result is a reduction of fish stocking by 20 to 25 percent. The annual cost to run Salisbury is approximately $520,000.  Currently, it is saved as sportsmen’s groups have come forward to support raising the fee on hunting and fishing licenses by $2 in order to keep it open and this has been agreed to in the House version of the budget.

The budget for the department is very tight, as it usually is, plus it has new expenses. At the Ed Weed Hatchery a new energy efficient $70,000 pump will save $40,000 in annual electricity costs. A nice savings.

F&W’s fee for space at the new state laboratory, which was just completed at Vermont Technical College in Randolph will be $40,000. Through the generosity of UVM following Irene, the fish health lab was housed there in the interim for free.

The department has 142 full-time employees and is keeping some positions open when someone leaves or retires. This will save $242,000 this year and help with cash flow. The department’s budget is down by $47,300 in an effort to comply with the administration’s request on budgeting. Buy a license. F&W needs your help.

Consider visiting your State House and listen to testimony in the committees. Contact me at home at 802-228-8432 or the State House at 1-800-322-5616 or anitka@leg.state.vt.us    I am able to read all of your  e-mails and appreciate you sending them, however the volume received makes it impossible to respond to all of them.

Alice Nitka represents the Windsor District in the Vermont Senate.

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