Anglers fear closure of Connecticut fish hatcheries

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Anglers and other advocates for Connecticut’s three fish hatcheries fear that state officials will try to close one of them in a budget-cutting move.

The state has a potential deficit of $100 million. In 2011 and 2013, officials tried to save money by closing a hatchery, but the effort failed amid protests by anglers, schoolchildren and the argument that the hatcheries directly and indirectly contribute millions to state revenue and Connecticut’s economy.

"We can't rule it out and we can't rule it in," Gian-Carl Casa, a spokesman for Malloy's budget office, told The Hartford Courant of the possibility that a state fish hatchery could once more be on the governor's cut list as officials prepare budget recommendations for 2015-16. "These decisions haven't been made yet because we're still working on the budget plan."

"Do I think they're safe?" said Ed Albrecht, Connecticut coordinator for a Trout Unlimited program that makes it possible for students to raise fish in school aquariums using eggs from state hatcheries. "No, I don't think they're safe at all."

Bob Crook, head of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, is convinced that the Malloy administration will try again to eliminate at least one of the hatcheries.

"I don't think they have any institutional memory up there," Crook said.

It costs Connecticut taxpayers more than $3.2 million annually to operate state hatcheries in the Kensington section of Berlin, Burlington and the Quinebaug area of Plainfield. The money pays for the raising of hundreds of thousands of trout, salmon and other game fish released each year into streams, rivers, ponds and lakes throughout the state.

In 2013, more than 1.2 million state-raised fish were stocked in Connecticut's waters.

State environmental officials say those hatchery fish are a key reason that about 342,000 people in Connecticut and from throughout the country spent so much time and money trying to catch the trout, salmon and other species that are released into the state's waters.

According to a 2011 federal survey, anglers went fishing in Connecticut on 4.4 million days — an average of 14 days per angler. Fishing-related spending in the state amounted to more than $436 million in 2011, federal experts estimated. That covered everything from sales of fishing poles and boats to hotel and motel charges for the estimated 65,000 out-of-state anglers who came to try their luck in Connecticut waters.

Bill Hyatt is chief of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's bureau of natural resources. He said the state is also getting more than $13 million a year in direct revenue from fishing licenses and federal funds generated by an excise tax on the sale of fishing equipment.

Hyatt said those sorts of statistics are a key reason that department officials "feel pretty good about our chances" of avoiding a hatchery closure during the current budget crunch.

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