Stocked fish can be very expensive. But the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee is considering increasing funding for Maine’s hatcheries so more fish can be stocked, so it may be time for you to speak up on this important issue. At the end of this column, I will give you a chance to do that. But let’s start with some background information.
2015 Stocking Report
The 8 hatcheries of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife grew and stocked 1,211,141 fish (386,164 pounds of fish) in 2015. According to Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, hatchery-produced fish have cost an average of $8/pound over the last 10 years. That means the fish produced and stocked in 2016 cost a total of $3,089,312. On average, each stocked fish cost $2.50.
But that figure is grossly misleading. The budget of DIF&W’s Fisheries Division is roughly $4 million, so our stocked fishery is gobbling up 75 percent of the entire fisheries division budget. The remainder pays for everything else including fisheries biologists and fisheries management and research.
I estimate that the fisheries biologists spend 90 percent of their time on stocked fisheries, creating stocking plans, and managing and researching stocked fisheries. Given that total fisheries division budget is about $4 million/year, the cost of each stocked fish would rise to about $3.50. But that’s not accurate either.
DIF&W has increased the stocking of larger fish, some of which spend two years in the hatchery, so these fish cost a lot more. I saw a report a few years ago that indicated these fish could cost more than $50, when the catch rate is included in the calculation.
Here’s an example of the cost of these larger fish. DIF&W recently awarded a $53,000 contract to Mountain Springs Trout Farm for 5,000 one-pound fall yearling brook trout that will be stocked in the fall of 2016. If all of them are caught, those caught fish will have cost $10 each. But if only half of those fish are caught, which is more likely, they’ll be $20 each! If only 25 percent are caught, those fish will cost $30.
More than 1 million of the fish DIF&W stocks are brook trout. Given that many of us are avid brook trout anglers, it is understandable that the agency is focused on producing and stocking brook trout. I just wish they’d spend more time and money on our self-sustaining populations of wild native brookies, now our state’s Heritage Fish, thanks to legislation proposed and championed by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and its Fisheries Committee when I served as Executive Director.
But here’s a surprising statistic: Maine anglers now catch twice as many smallmouth bass as brook trout. And lots of nonresident anglers come to Maine now to fish for bass. Given that DIF&W spends almost nothing managing smallies, they are quite a bargain! Without question, focusing the fisheries budget on self-sustaining fisheries, be they brook trout or smallmouth bass, delivers a lot more value – and I would argue a lot more pleasure – to Maine anglers, than spending almost all of their time and money on stocked fish.
Last year Representative Russell Black submitted a bill at my request that got quite a bit of discussion, but a disappointing result.
In my testimony for the bill, I reported on problems with stocking policies, genetics of brook, brown, and rainbow trout, and high costs and low catch rates. Our bill would have created a Hatchery Commission to:
- Examine the costs of production, the numbers and species of fish stocked, and the return on stocked fish, both in Maine and in other states;
- Conduct a survey of licensed anglers in the State, using contact lists at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, to assess the anglers’ interest in and satisfaction with fish stocked by the State;
- Make recommendations designed to provide for the production and distribution of fish sufficient to meet current and future demand in the most cost-effective manner.
Getting no traction at the legislature for tackling these problems, I am now looking for a nonprofit organization willing to organize and lead the Hatchery Commission. It might even be better to do this outside of DIF&W. I am not giving up!
Last year the IFW Committee killed my hatchery bill and used a LD 1202, a bill that called for purchasing fish for stocking from private hatcheries, sponsored by Senator Paul Davis, to do the following:
Authorize up to $700,000 from DIF&W’s carrying account (surplus);
Create a Request for Proposals to upgrade DIF&W’s hatchery in Grand Lake Stream (DIF&W informed the Committee that there is potential for more production in this hatchery);
Create a Request for Proposals to significantly renovate and expand or construct a new hatchery (DIF&W said the greatest potential is at Enfield where they would tear down the existing rearing station and construct a new one);
Use any remaining money to purchase fish for stocking from private hatcheries if that is possible;
Give the IFW Committee authority to create and support a bond issue bill next year;
Request the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to expedite studies of water discharges from DIF&W’s hatcheries.
Todd Langevin, DIF&W’s Superintendent of Hatcheries, presented an impressive report to the legislature’s IFW Committee on February 9, in response to the committee’s resolve and directive. The report, said Langevin, “builds upon the previous Comprehensive Statewide Fish Hatchery System Engineering Study completed in 2002 by FishPro Inc. (now a part of HDR Inc.). HDR was selected to complete the latest engineering studies report… The current study addresses the specific points of interest identified in the (legislative resolve) and provides both recommendations and cost estimates which include a number of optional add-ons. The cost of the study conducted by HDR totaled $140,784,” reported Langevin.
I’m wading through that lengthy report now, as I’m sure IFW committee members are doing too, in preparation for a committee discussion next Tuesday (February 16).
In my Sportsman Say Survey on my website, www.georgesmithmaine.com, I’ve posted a question to give you a chance to weigh in on the issue of increased stocking. The question is: Should Maine spend more time and money managing self-sustaining fisheries including brook trout and bass, and less money on hatcheries and stocked fish? I will share your opinions with members of the IFW Committee on Tuesday. You can directly access the question here. Thanks!