Tropical storm can’t keep Vermont fish hatchery down

Damage to one of the hatchery buildings from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

BETHEL, Vt. — Almost six years after the raging flood waters of Tropical Storm Irene washed into the White River National Fish Hatchery in Bethel, the hatchery is back in business. Following $2.3 million in repairs, it now has a new mission: to produce eggs for landlocked salmon destined for Lake Champlain and lake trout for two of the Great Lakes.

Some of the fish tanks both inside the main hatchery building run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and outside once again have fish. The facility is gearing up for its new role of producing and distributing eggs.

“This hatchery is really a symbol of resilience, it’s a symbol of the future, it’s a symbol of respect for nature and we have to play a positive role in sustaining it,” said Vermont U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, who spoke at a recent ceremony at the hatchery marking its reopening.

On Aug. 28, 2011, when Irene hit Vermont, floodwaters from the adjacent White River swept into the hatchery’s outdoor holding tanks, flushing thousands of hatchery-raised Atlantic salmon into the river. The floodwaters also contaminated the remaining tanks.

The Fish and Wildlife Service closed the hatchery for repairs. Thousands of large Atlantic salmon brood stock were donated to Native American groups for use in ritual ceremonies while nearly half a million lake trout that had been intended for Lake Ontario and other locations had to be destroyed.

Before Irene, the main mission of the Bethel hatchery was to raise Atlantic salmon that were released into the tributaries of the Connecticut River as part of a decades-long effort to restore a naturally reproducing population of the fish in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.

But in 2012, biologists decided to abandon the Connecticut River Atlantic salmon restoration program because not enough adult fish were returning to the river to reproduce.

After several years, officials decided the hatchery’s new mission would be to keep brood stock to be used to produce eggs that will be sent to other hatcheries, said manager Henry Bouchard. The Atlantic salmon will be destined for Lake Champlain. The lake trout are destined for lakes Ontario and Erie.

In addition, the hatchery will be a research center.

It will be several years before the young fish now at the hatchery are old enough to produce eggs. But once that is happening, other missions could be found, said Bouchard.

 

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