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May 15, 2012

10-year plan to address water supply, building, production issues

MADISON - Wisconsin's hatchery system is in need of upgrading and modernizing to meet current demand, according to a comprehensive study of Wisconsin's hatchery system by the nation's leading hatchery consultant.

Doing nothing, according to the study, will result in a reduction of fish stocking statewide and will affect businesses benefitting from the $2.75 billion in economic impact that fishing generates in Wisconsin, the 30,000 jobs it supports, and the $196 million in local and state tax revenues it provides, the consultant, HDR Engineering Inc. of Springfield, Ill., told state Natural Resources Board members during an April 25 presentation to the board.

Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Director Mike Staggs said the study was the most extensive statewide evaluation Wisconsin's ever done of its hatchery system and it highlights some very significant infrastructure, water quality and production issues.

"The challenge is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done," Staggs says. "The good news is the study gives us a vision and a plan to systematically address those issues."

The consultants concluded that major renovations are needed at all but one of the 17 facilities. The Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery, a century old hatchery that was renovated starting in 2006 and had new cool-water and cold-water facilities built, is the only hatchery that didn't need upgrades.

Although the consultants also called for construction of three new production facilities to meet stocking goals through 2019, DNR will maintain focus on carrying out a 10-year-plan to address the most critical needs at existing fisheries, Staggs says.

DNR to focus on 10-year plan to address most critical needs at existing facilities

Staggs and Al Kaas, head of DNR's fish culture program, are meeting with fishing groups to discuss the study results, gauge support for moving ahead with the 10-year-plan.

"Making these investments will allow our hatchery system to continue to stock hundreds of Wisconsin waters," Kaas says. "They also will bring the facilities up to state building codes and environmental standards and will address the water supply and production issues that have been hampering production in recent years."

The top item to address is the hatcheries' water supply issues, with the first step to conduct groundwater and surface water studies to assess the availability of groundwater. Such studies need to look at the flow, quality, and impact on neighboring uses of new or increased pumping to supply groundwater to hatcheries.

"Groundwater is the most secure and controllable water supply, which is exactly what fish hatcheries need to minimize problems and maximize production," Staggs says.

The consultant recommended that wherever possible DNR use groundwater in its hatcheries instead of lake or river water because groundwater is not exposed to the potential threat of viral hemorrhagic septicemia and other viruses and disease that may potentially be found in fish swimming in lakes or rivers, or in those surface waters themselves.

At the same time, some hatcheries where DNR has long used groundwater, or has moved more recently to groundwater since VHS fish disease was discovered in Wisconsin, are facing potential water quantity issues that make it difficult to properly operate them. In many cases, the hatcheries were originally built with more raceways and ponds than the available water supply could sustainably support. In other cases, during recent droughts, some hatcheries, like Kettle Moraine Springs Hatchery in Sheboygan County, have had trouble with water shortages, which affect the number and health of fish produced.

Other components of the 10-year plan seek to:

More information about the 10 year plan, the executive summary of the consultants' report, a factsheet and more information about DNR's hatchery system can be found online. Go to and search for "hatchery study."

The vast majority of Wisconsin waters produce fish naturally, but stocking provides fishing opportunities in hundreds of lakes and rivers where there is no or little natural reproduction and, perhaps most importantly, Lake Michigan, where chinook salmon, coho salmon and steelhead trout do not reproduce naturally.

DNR also stocks in waters to supplement low natural reproduction, hoping to build the population into a self-sustaining one. Other stocking priorities include stocking where there have been fish kills, stocking urban fishing ponds to provide fishing opportunities for kids, and stocking for research purposes. Last year, DNR raised and stocked more than 7.6 million fingerling sized or larger fish.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Mike Staggs - 608) 267-0796; Al Kaas -608-267-7865; or Lisa Gaumnitz, DNR Office of Communications - 608-264-8942

Last Revised: Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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