Old Hatchery Gets Fish and Future

After decades of shedding fish hatcheries, Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife may be bringing one back to life. 

DIF&W recently stocked the old Dead River Hatchery, northeast of Kingfield, with brook trout, accepting an offer from the property owner, Poland Spring, to utilize the facility. Poland Spring purchased the property for its water supply and has maintained all the buildings, including the hatchery and two houses. 

Left to right, Dave Trahan of SAM and Heather McBean and Tom Brennan of Poland Spring check out the huge rainbow trout in one of the Dead River Hatchery’s tanks.

The department is getting the hatchery for free and has filled the 10 round covered tanks with brook trout that were not scheduled for stocking this spring. These fish will be stocked in the fall, as fall yearlings, for fall open water and winter ice anglers. The tanks will be filled with brook trout fry this winter.

Tom Brennan, Poland Spring’s Senior Natural Resource Manager, told me that the company is very pleased that DIF&W will be utilizing the hatchery, and he hopes it’s a long term relationship. While Poland Spring wants to maintain its ownership of the property, for the water supply, “Our expectation is not to make the hatchery a revenue generator for us. If the department can use and maintain the facility, we’d be happy,” said Tom.

This partnership is only possible because the Maine legislature appropriated $200,000 of General Fund tax money for DIF&W’s hatcheries in this year’s legislative session. The money is available on a one-time basis in the new fiscal year that began on July 1, 2012. And the department has decided to focus the funds on increasing the number of brook trout stocked.

Todd Langevin, DIF&W’s Hatcheries Director, told me he’s also considering purchasing fish from private hatcheries in order to utilize these new funds. Without the promise that this money will become part of the division’s budget in the next biennium, Todd is limited in the ways he can spend it, including a short time frame.

Tom Brennan took Dave Trahan, SAM’s new executive director, and I to the hatchery last fall for a tour, and we were both impressed. Dave came home and got right to work, scheduling a meeting with Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and others at DIF&W to discuss the potential use of the Dead River Hatchery. He also worked hard to win that $200,000 appropriation for the agency’s hatchery system.

I was especially impressed with the huge brook trout and rainbow trout that still reside at the hatchery. On the tour, I kind of wished I’d brought my fishing rod along! Langevin said those fish are still there and there’s been no determination of what to do with them. I suggested stocking some of them in Hopkins Pond behind my house!

Chris Pray lives at and maintains the facility for Poland Spring, and also serves as the keeper of the dam there that is owned by NextEra. DIF&W has contracted with Chris to take care of their fish there. Once a week Langevin also sends someone from the department’s nearby Emden hatchery up to Dead River to check on things and help Pray.

Langevin, clearly elated by this new development, noted that DIF&W, “has done more with less for so long, it’s pretty amazing the poundage and quality of fish we’re producing.”

The fact that the Dead River Hatchery has a discharge permit and Poland Spring will allow the department to continue to use the facility for free, will probably make it possible for this new partnership to continue in the future.

Dave Trahan intends to make sure that happens. “We excited not just about this current situation, but also by the potential at this site,” he told me, saying he’ll be working at the legislature next session to secure permanent funding for the Dead River Hatchery.

Dave wants some of these extra fish to go to expansion of the Hooked on Fishing Program for kids, and perhaps to new special fall fishing events for kids.

As a member of the 1999 Hatchery Commission that recommended quadrupling the pounds of fish stocked in Maine waters, I am well aware of how far short of that goal we stand today. The very first article I published in my website’s Outdoor News Blog, titled Maine Hatcheries – Time For Change – presented a history of the issue, including real production numbers compared to what the Hatchery Commission recommended, along with my own recommendations for the future.

The Commission recommended that DIF&W increase salmonid production from 260,000 to 865,000 pounds per year, by the year 2012. We’re about 500,000 pounds short of that goal, having reach 2012 without making the investments necessary to achieve it.

So, we should be especially grateful to Poland Spring for this new initiative, while we hope that this partnership between Poland Spring and DIF&W is just the beginning of a new era bringing an expanded fishery and fishing economy to Maine.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.