Groups speak out, bills aimed at Great Lakes trout, salmon stamp fund altered

Madison — Substitute legislation restricting the use of Great Lakes trout and salmon stamp funds for lamprey control has been introduced in the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly following complaints from big-lake anglers and officials of several sport-fishing clubs in the state.

The original bills, which were introduced in both legislative chambers in April, would have allocated, on an annual basis, up to $564,500 for sea lamprey control. The funding would have been taken from the trout and salmon stamp account, which up to now has been earmarked solely for the rearing and stocking of trout and salmon in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and their tributaries. The stamp fund currently amounts to about $3 million based on the annual sale of about 130,000 stamps.

The original legislative proposals immediately drew complaints from, among others, the 11-member Wisconsin Federation of Great Lakes Sport Fishing Clubs, which represents a membership of about 3,500. The original proposals were called a “legislative raid,” by one upset angler. Substitute versions of both subsequently were introduced: The Senate version, on June 10, was referred to the Joint Finance Committee; the Assembly bill was offered June 5 by Rep. Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay, and was scheduled for a public hearing after which it also was expected to be sent to the finance committee.

The identical substitute bills would allow a one-time expenditure of up to $520,000 for lamprey control, but would have to come from general purpose revenue rather than trout and salmon stamp funds. Stamp revenue spending, under the substitute bills, would be limited to $304,500, for repair and construction of lamprey barriers on the Kewaunee River in Lake Michigan, and the Nemadji River in Lake Superior. The substitutes also authorize up to $120,000 for surveys of lamprey larvae in inland Wisconsin lakes and the tributaries of both Great Lakes.

The stamp fund expenditures for the barriers would have to be federally matched on a 65 percent to 35 percent basis, with the federal portion amounting to $565,500. Legislative staff said the expectation was that the federal funds were available and would be released for the projects. The two substitute bills most will likely remain in the Joint Finance Committee until the Legislature reconvenes in September, according to Toni Herkert, the policy analyst in the office of Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Allouez. Herkert said the bills then normally would be scheduled for a floor vote in both the Senate and Assembly.

Thom Gulash, president of the state sport-fishing club federation, expressed his pleasure with the amended legislation. He said concern with the initial legislation was that the trout and salmon stamp fund would be depleted and the DNR’s ability to maintain the stocking and rearing program on the Great Lakes would be in jeopardy. He credited negotiations involving Cowles’ office, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and its executive director, George Meyer, and sport-fishing club officials with arriving at a successful compromise. He said the clubs supported the result that will allow for lamprey-control measures, as well as continued funding for trout and salmon rearing and stocking.

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