French River hatchery repairs could cost $7.6 millionThe cost of renovating the ailing French River Cold Water Hatchery would be $7.6 million, according to a consulting firm hired by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
The cost of renovating the ailing French River Cold Water Hatchery would be $7.6 million, according to a consulting firm hired by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
And operating costs for the renovated hatchery would rise from about $600,000 to $700,000 per year because of increased staffing, said the report, prepared by HDR Inc., Illinois engineering and consulting firm.
Tim Goeman, DNR acting fisheries chief, released the initial information from the consultant in a letter to stakeholders on Thursday.
The hatchery, near the mouth of the French River on Lake Superior, raises Kamloops and steelhead strains of rainbow trout for Lake Superior. Built in the 1970s, the hatchery is in need of major repairs and renovations, Goeman said.
“The thing is really held together with baling wire and duct tape,” Goeman told the News Tribune in January.
The DNR will analyze the consultant’s report in the spring of 2014, he said. Meanwhile, angling groups are invited to read the report and offer feedback to the DNR, Goeman said in his letter.
“The DNR remains committed to maintaining rainbow trout stocking (both steelhead and Kamloops) at levels described in the 2006 Lake Superior Management Plan,” Goeman wrote.
That plan is up for review starting in the fall of 2014, and Goeman said the DNR will try to keep the hatchery issue and the lake management issues separate.
“We don’t want the hatchery to drive management,” Goeman said. “It should be the other way around, where management needs are requesting a product from a hatchery.”
Public meetings will be held perhaps next fall to discuss all aspects of the Lake Superior Management Plan, including the stocking of rainbow trout, said Don Schreiner, DNR Lake Superior area fisheries supervisor at French River.
“We want it to be transparent and let the public see these studies, now that they’re out,” Schreiner said.
The hatchery report also will be discussed when the Rainbow Trout Advisory Group, a group representing stakeholders, meets this December, Schreiner said.
Craig Wilson, president of the Lake Superior Steelhead Association, said the club remains supportive of renovating the hatchery.
“We’ve been on the record for a couple of years now for the hatchery being renovated,” Wilson said. “I think it’s important to have the hatchery there.”
“Hatcheries are a useful tool, but like any tool, they can be misused,” said John Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited. “Management should drive the use of the hatchery, not the other way around. There has to be a management need for what they’re raising there.”
Ross Pearson of Kamloops Advocates, a group that supports fishing for stocked Kamloops rainbow trout on the North Shore, said the French River hatchery “is the heart of the mechanism that creates and maintains most of the shore and stream opportunities that anglers currently enjoy on the Minnesota shores of Lake Superior and in the Minnesota tributaries to Lake Superior.”
“The availability of Kamloops through three seasons generates an incredibly popular and unique shoreline angling experience,” Pearson said in a statement. “Other Lake Superior fish species can’t be caught frequently enough from shore to attract the numbers of fishermen that the Kamloops fishery has been shown to attract.”
Where the money would come from for a hatchery renovation isn’t clear. Goeman told the News Tribune in January that the repairs probably would cost millions, “far beyond what we could do with our fisheries budget.”
The hatchery draws its water from Lake Superior, a ready source, but the water must be heated before it can be used in the hatchery. As energy costs have risen, they have driven up the costs of raising fish at the hatchery. In recent years, some of those fish have been shipped to the Spire Valley Hatchery near Remer to save money. In addition, staff has been reduced at the hatchery through attrition and re-assignments.
Along with evaluating the future of the hatchery, the DNR commissioned a University of Minnesota study of Minnesota trout anglers. The study indicated that trout anglers, based on sales of trout stamps, represent about 5.5 percent of Minnesota’s 1.5 million anglers. More of those trout anglers (46 percent) fish inland lakes than other trout waters, according to the study.
About 30 percent of trout anglers fish on Lake Superior or its tributaries. About 14 percent of Minnesota’s trout anglers fish for rainbow trout, the study revealed, and 9 percent of Minnesota trout anglers fish tributary streams or from shore for rainbows.
In 2013, trout anglers have contributed a total of $858,250 to the DNR through the purchase of trout stamps, of which about $262,000 was attributed to anglers fishing Lake Superior and its tributaries.