Caledonia, N.Y. — DEC’s oldest hatchery is in need of major repairs as it approaches a milestone 150th anniversary in 2014.
But the Caledonia hatchery in Livingston County, one of a dozen operated by the state, isn’t the only facility in need of attention.
A report prepared by DEC’s Bureau of Fisheries included a laundry list of what officials called “critical needs: about $7.5 million in work within the hatchery system, which produces up to one million pounds of fish – mostly trout – annually.
And that figure doesn’t include other work not deemed as important as the “critical” listings, many of which threaten fish-rearing capabilities at the hatcheries and could result in major fish die-offs if not addressed.
DEC fisheries bureau Chief Phil Hulbert and fish culture section head Jim Daley briefed the state’s Conservation Fund Advisory Board on the status of the hatchery system earlier this month.
“I wouldn’t want to paint the picture that the (hatchery) system is in imminent danger of total collapse,” Hulbert told the board. “That’s not the case.”
But the report outlining hatchery system’s infrastructure in several cases lists fish mortality as a potential consequence of not addressing the problems.
“For these projects, failure of an existing structure or piece of equipment may result in either a significant loss of fish, pose a significant threat to human health and safety, and/or seriously impact our ability to stock fish,” the report reads.
In addition to work at several hatcheries, the report calls for the purchase of 16 new six-tank stocking trucks to replace models of 2000 and 2002 with mileage of 150,000 to 200,000 miles.
In recent years, hatchery dollars have fallen well short of what DEC fisheries officials say is needed to make wholesale improvements. Conservation Fund Advisory Board members pointed that out in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling for increased funding for the hatchery work, perhaps in the 2014 budget through the NY WORKS program.
Alluding to Cuomo’s much-trumpeted “New York Open for Hunting and Fishing” initiative, CFAB’s letter said it was “imperative that our fish hatcheries be brought back up to the level that is necessary to maintain viable stocking programs.”
A capital budget expenditure of $1 million was approved in the current state spending plan, but only $360,000 of that was actually appropriated and made available through September, the letter said.
“Currently, the backlog of capital improvements is in the area of $6.7 million,” CFAB’s letter read. “Unless meaningful and immediate funding is provided, we believe it is only a question of when, not if, the hatcheries will be forced to shut down.”
At least from an aesthetic standpoint, the aging Caledonia hatchery may be in need of the most attention as it approaches its 150th anniversary next year. It’s one of the oldest fish hatcheries in the state.
“The condition of the roadways, raceways, main building’s exterior, structural integrity and stream habitat is in a much deteriorated condition,” CFAB members said in their letter to Cuomo. “It would be a great opportunity to showcase that, in fact, New York is open for fishing!”
Steve Hurst, leader of DEC’s biological survey unit and a former fisheries bureau chief, said securing funds through the NY WORKS program would likely be the best opportunity to get the work done, suggesting it would be “fast-tracked” by the Cuomo administration.
CFAB member Bill Conners said he’s not concerned where the money comes from, as long as it arrives. “This would be a profile project (under the NY WORKS program),” he predicted. “Let’s take the money and run.”
DEC assistant director of fish, wildlife and marine resources Doug Stang said it’s likely a portion of the state’s Environmental Protection Fund will be allocated for hatchery improvements in the upcoming state budget. “There’s a pretty good chance there will be some money for hatcheries,” he said.
But the biggest chunk would almost assuredly come via the NY WORKS program, designed largely to rebuild the state’s infrastructure.
DEC assistant commissioner for natural resources Kathleen Moser told the board the NY WORKS program would be the best avenue for securing major funding for the hatchery work.
“There’s a much higher chance of getting it done (through NY WORKS),” she said.
“We’ve never been close to that amount (of funding),” CFAB chairman Jason Kemper said. “This is an opportunity.”