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Fish farming in WisconsinNatural waterbodies

Attention: new DATCP fish farm registrants

The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) requires that new registrants receive a Natural Waterbody Status review (Proof of Status Letter) from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) prior to registering their waterbody(s) or facility as a DATCP fish farm. Natural body of water" means a spring, stream, pond, lake, or wetland that was historically present in a natural state but may have been physically altered over time.  If the DNR determines that your waterbody(s) or facility meet this definition, and is not exempt due to other permits (Statutes 30.19 dredging/grading/enlarging; 30.195(a) stream course alteration; or 31.04 dams), then a Natural Waterbody Permit will be required prior to registering as a DATCP Fish Farm.  Conversely, if the waterbody(s) or facility do not meet the natural body of water definition, or is exempt, then a Natural Waterbody Permit will not be required prior to registering as a Fish Farm.

To obtain this review and determination letter, simply fill out a Natural Waterbody Review Application (Form 3600-227A), and send the completed application to:

DNR Natural Waterbody Permit Coordinator
Wisconsin DNR, Bureau of Fisheries Management
101 S. Webster Street
Madison, WI 53707

Natural water body permits

A permit is required from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for any DATCP-registered fish farm to use a natural body of water for their aquaculture operation. Section 29.733, Wisconsin Statutes establishes the permit program, and NR 19, Wisconsin Administrative Code explains the permit process and requirements for operating a fish farm in a natural body of water.

A waterbody that was licensed by DNR on January 1, 1998 as a private fish hatchery may be eligible for a Grandfathered NR 19 permit. Otherwise, the use of a natural body of water for fish farming is limited to freeze-out ponds, and requires an Initial NR 19 Permit. Under the Initial NR 19 permit review, a permit is only issued if DNR determines that no substantial public interest exists in the body of water and that no public or private rights in the body of water will be damaged. If a property is sold, a permit is required to transfer an NR 19 permit to the new owner.

To apply for an NR 19 permit, fill out Form 3600-227 [PDF] and submit it along with the necessary attachments to your local Fish Farm Environmental Permits Coordinator.

Public notice on permit applications

The DNR will post a notice of every natural waterbody permit application on its website according to 2011 Wisconsin Act 207. If no substantive written objection is received by 30 days after posting, the DNR may grant the application without a public hearing. Permits will be granted if the DNR finds that no substantial public interest exists in the waters and that no public or private rights in the waters will be adversely impacted. Public rights include plant and wild animal habitat or populations; water quality and quantity in lakes, streams or rivers, threatened or endangered species or their habitats, wetlands and the public’s right to navigate and associated incidents to navigation including fishing, swimming, wading and canoeing. Because all navigable waterbodies in the state belong to the public, state law requires the DNR to request if anyone has objection to the permit.

For more information, you can download our factsheets Natural waterbody permits for fish farms [PUB FH-060, PDF] , Environmental permits for Wisconsin fish farms [PUB FH-059, PDF], or contact your local DNR Fish Farm Environmental Permits Coordinator.

Note: The information provided on this web page is for general orientation purposes only. Do not rely solely on the information provided on these web pages. For more information, please contact your local DNR Fish Farm Environmental Permits Coordinator.

Last revised: Monday October 29 2018