Hatchery fish kill was predictable

Enfied Hatchery GD.jpgWhile the press release reported an “unexpected reduction in water flow” killed lots of juvenile landlocked salmon at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Casco hatchery, it was entirely predictable. And the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s failure to ask the legislature for funding to solve the problem, when they had a good chance and were actually invited to do that, leaves the agency with very little opportunity to fix the problem. Let’s start at the beginning of this sorry story.

My Proposal

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.

DIF&W opposed our bill and the IFW Committee rejected the bill and in its place, voted to appropriate $700,000 from DIF&W’s surplus account to contract for an engineering study on upgrading the Casco and Grand Lake Stream Hatcheries and constructing a new hatchery.

The Plan

On February 9, Todd Langevin, DIF&W’s Superintendent of Hatcheries, presented the engineering study to the legislature’s IFW Committee. The study was done by FishPro Inc. of Illinois and cost $140,784. The FishPro plan included adding a second deeper water intake at the Casco hatchery, expanding the Grand Lake Stream water supply and production capacity, and building a new hatchery.

When the IFW Committee sought a recommendation from Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, he could not give them one. So they voted without any guidance from the agency.

The IFW Committee voted to seek a $28 million bond issue, without a lot of discussion after the motion was made, but the vote seemed to be based on a desire to build a new hatchery, without seeking the improvements recommended for Casco and Grand Lake Stream.

Casco Hatchery’s Problem

The FishPro study presents the water supply problem at Casco’s Hatchery in great detail. In a section titled Water Supply Concerns, they reported the primary concerns with the existing pipeline are:

  • Remaining life in the existing pipeline, especially the AC section. The AC pipe has a typical design life of 50 years, which has already been exceeded.
  • Intake depth and limited access to cooler water.
  • ROW access along the buried pipeline. Generally, a 50 foot ROW is required for pipeline construction and maintenance. The existing buried pipeline is overgrown and is susceptible to root damage.

FishPro recommended the installation of a second water supply intake, at an estimated cost of about $1 million, and included details and drawings for that project.

What now?

With no money for the installation of a second water supply intake, the options available to DIF&W to fix this problem are limited, at best.

If agency leaders had told IFW Committee members that this was a priority, and they really needed the funding, I have no doubt that the committee would have proposed a smaller bond issue to deal with the most critical problems at our hatcheries, rather than endorsing a $28 million bond for a new hatchery – a bond issue that had no chance of every being enacted by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. Indeed, the $28 million bond proposal died in the Appropriations Committee.

DIF&W’s Press Release

Here’s the department’s press release, announcing the fish kill. It makes it sound like there’s nothing to be concerned about, doesn’t it?

Unexpected Reduction in Waterflow at Casco Hatchery Not Expected to Adversely Affect Stocking Programs

AUGUSTA, Maine – The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife owns and operates a total of eight fish hatcheries and/or rearing stations across the state and stocks approximately 1.2 million fish each year.  Maine’s fish hatcheries play an important role in supporting sport fishing in Maine, which has a $360 million impact on the state’s economy.

Constructed in 1955, the fish hatchery and rearing station in Casco is responsible for approximately 12% of the Department’s annual hatchery production. The facility raises landlocked salmon, brook trout, rainbow trout and brown trout.

Last week, the Casco hatchery experienced an unexpected reduction in water flow entering the facility. Unfortunately, the disruption in water flow caused the loss of many of the juvenile landlocked salmon (fry) being raised at the facility.

Anglers can be assured that the loss of salmon fry is not expected to adversely affect most of the salmon stocking programs in Southern Maine, as additional salmon production at the Grand Lake Stream hatchery and rearing station will offset the fry being raised at the Casco facility.

As a precautionary measure, some fish from the hatchery that would normally be stocked in early fall are being stocked in their planned locations now, and some fish are being relocated to other facilities.

The Casco hatchery is supplied with water by a single pipeline from Pleasant Lake. The intake pipe at the facility was identified as needing improvements in a recent infrastructure study that was conducted on all of the Department’s hatcheries and rearing stations. Although the reason for the sudden disruption in flow has not yet been determined, the Department’s fisheries biologists and hatchery staff are working hard to identify the cause and determine both short term and long term solutions.

In the meantime, anglers across the state will still be able to enjoy the abundance of fishing opportunities that Maine has to offer. A current fish stocking report is available by visiting www.mefishwildlife.com

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. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.