Anglers, feel free to celebrate: The Roxbury Fish Culture Station — a hatchery that raises trout for Vermont’s waters — is back in business.
The hatchery had been out of action for nine years after it was decimated by Tropical Storm Irene.
Why nine years?
“It’s just a large, complex, complicated project with a lot of permitting involved. We don’t build fish hatcheries every day,” said Jeremy Whalen, the Roxbury Fish Culture Station supervisor. “There’s a lot to it and that’s really why it’s taken so long.”
One factor: The hatchery, which was built in 1891, had to be reconstructed to meet modern codes and environmental standards.
After years of planning, construction and a $6 million investment, the hatchery will once again send tens of thousands of brook and rainbow trout into the state’s public rivers, lakes and streams each year.
Its early buildings and landscape were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. The hatchery is on Route 12A, adjacent to Flint Brook, a tributary of the White River.
Tropical Storm Irene, which damaged 500 miles of roads and scores of houses in the Green Mountain National Forest watershed in 2011, also destroyed the hatchery’s pond system, where the fish were raised. The buildings sustained minor damage. In 2014, the hatchery was able to restart some operations at a limited capacity.
Whalen said state officials renovated the hatchery “with an eye on water quality.”
The redesigned hatchery includes four new buildings, and indoor circular tanks where fish will grow. The tanks, unlike the hatchery’s previous pond system, will automatically remove fish waste and feed, then the cleansed water will be released into the environment.
Construction wrapped up in late September.
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has said the state’s hatcheries in Roxbury, Bennington, Grand Isle, Newark and Salisbury are an important economic driver for the state, ensuring that the state’s waters are stocked with fish for anglers.
“What we’re specifically doing is we’re growing these fish to provide angling opportunities throughout the state,” Whalen said. “And we’re putting these fish in areas to create angling opportunities that might not otherwise be available.”
The federal government has estimated that the fully operational Roxbury hatchery will contribute about $2.5 million a year to the state’s economy, when expenses for fishing licenses, equipment and in-state travel are taken into account, Whalen said.
The Roxbury hatchery supplies 30% of the state’s annual stock of brook and rainbow trout — about 60,000 fish.
The Roxbury project received $5 million in state funding and about $1 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
James Ehlers, an environmental activist and policy adviser for Lake Champlain International, an organization that advocates for water quality, said Vermont must invest in fish hatcheries because humans have harmed natural populations of fish like the brook trout.
“I think it’s absolutely critical that we stay in the business, if you will, of raising brook trout until the day when we’ve decided to prioritize environmental protection and habitat protection and brook trout can sustain themselves naturally again,” Ehlers said.
The hatchery’s outdoor grounds are open to the public, as they were before Irene, though visitors won’t be welcome to enter its buildings until after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Next spring, when the fish at the hatchery grow large enough, employees will place some of them in outdoor ponds for members of the public to feed.
“We’ll have some fish out there; people can still come in and feed fish like they historically have for years and years. In some cases, it’s generations of families,” Whalen said.
Don't miss a thing. Sign up here to get VTDigger's weekly email on the energy industry and the environment.